Second Thoughts: Contract extension deserved front-and-center treatment
by Jon Mendelson / Tracy Press
Oct 28, 2011 | 4813 views | 36 36 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
To be honest, I missed it.

I missed that on Oct. 18, the City Council extended the contract of City Manager Leon Churchill through May 4, 2016.

His current deal was set to expire on May 4, 2012, before the City Council unanimously decided to give Churchill the thumbs up for four more years of service, barring unforeseen circumstances. The move was foreshadowed by the council’s 5-0 vote to have a contract drawn up by the city attorney’s office following a Sept. 6 closed session.

Judging by the vote that day, the extension was no surprise. What caught me off guard — as it did several locals who made their concerns known to me — was the item’s placement on the consent calendar of the Oct. 18 meeting.

The consent calendar is a list of items that can all be passed with one vote, without comment. Any council member or citizen can have a consent calendar item pulled for any reason, after which city staff will give a brief report and the matter will be opened for public and council discussion before it’s voted on individually.

That’s in contrast to an action item, in which something on the agenda is singularly set aside for comment and a staff report.

Since the Oct. 18 meeting, I’ve been asked why a contract extension for Tracy’s central public employee was not accorded its own discussion.

The answer I’ve received from various city officials is that it was a considered a “routine” item of business.

Churchill’s performance review was conducted in several closed sessions earlier in the year, closed-meeting agendas show. (Closed sessions are used to negotiate legal deals, consider lawsuits and conduct performance reviews, in keeping with California law. Agendas for those meetings are posted on the city’s website, along with agendas for regular meetings.)

Because the city manager’s contract was discussed in closed session and the council directed staff to draw up the contract in open session, it became a routine item, according to the Tracy city clerk’s office.

That assertion is backed up by rules governing City Council meetings, which read in part: “All items listed on the consent calendar are considered to be routine matters or consistent with previous City Council direction.”

According to city attorney Dan Sodergren, “There’s no strict definition of what’s considered routine,” though that typically includes items of business such as professional service agreements, grant certifications and simple contract amendments — for example, the one extending Churchill’s contract.

But who generally makes that determination, I asked.

“Usually, the city manager and city clerk determines what items should be on which calendar,” Sodergren said.

I personally thought the council was going to make a point of discussing the extension, especially after Mayor Brent Ives made it clear Sept. 6 that there would be a chance for the public to talk about the decision before a final vote.

There was, in fact, that chance. Just no set-aside time, no extra effort taken.

I guess I read the tea leaves wrong.

To be clear, the city has followed the letter of the law, dotted each “i” and crossed every “t.” Still, I can’t hide that I hoped for more.

City manager is arguably the most important position

in the city of Tracy, and a four-year commitment is nothing to sneeze at. I thought Churchill’s retention deserved more discussion.

This has nothing to do with Churchill’s job performance, by the way, which I think has been positive.

Notwithstanding a few bad calls — most notably, in retrospect, the hiring and tenure of former police Chief Janet Thiessen — Churchill has provided stable leadership and a consistent vision for Tracy. He is focused on economic growth and has so far guided the city through the financial minefield of the Great Recession.

That kind of help can be hard to find. If you doubt that, consult folks in Stockton, who are reaping the whirlwind of years of fiscal mismanagement and City Hall incompetence.

Elected officials who work with Churchill seem to recognize his value, too. When asked Sept. 6 why Churchill deserved four more years, one councilman told me flatly, “Because he’s so much better than what we had before,” a clear shot at one-time City Manager Dan Hobbs.

All that, however, is entirely beside the point.

Extending Churchill’s contract was a big enough deal that Tracy’s residents deserved an explicit, stand-alone time to hear the council’s reasoning behind the decision and offer their own critiques.

By putting that item on the consent calendar, the city called extending the contract of one of the most important people in our local government run-of-the-mill, instead of putting it front and center where it belonged.

I’m sorry — that’s anything but “routine.”

• Second Thoughts is an opinion column by editor Jon Mendelson. Share your thoughts at

jmendelson@tracypress.com.
Comments
(36)
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Ornley_Gumfudgen
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November 06, 2011
Cont

of lies, or half truths that essentially form a lie, can do devastation harm ta th general populace that hang on every word of th media ta present them with factual an truthful information.

Any politician that has been in politics fer just about any period of time can testify that if th media favors ya an don't favor yer opponent that ya got a much better chance of gettin what ya want done an remain in power or remove those currently in power that very well in fact MAY be doin an adequate job or th best job that is possible given th circumstances.

In recent history, IT IS MY OPINION, much of US Media is guilty of doin just that as they polarize th general public with well written articles that seem ta present truth but in fact are not much more than opinion, wishful thankin an empty promises of improvement of th general public's livin conditions.

It is also my opinion that th Tracy Press has done this far too many times fer comfort.

Remember, unless yer published as a writer in th press, not someone sendin a letter or expressin an opinion in an article th editor allows ta be published, yer at a distinct disadvantage in gettin th truth out when th editorial staff can, an has, filtered what it thanks is worthy of bein printed.

In my opinion media needs ta be very careful that when it harbors opinions that it does not present those opinions as fact ta th public it serves. Th same is true when media presents th truth or portions of th truth in order ta bias th public in favor of th opinions th media may harbor even though those opinions may not have been publicly expressed by th media.

This is one reason why when I see those in current power in th government become desirous of enactin law that prevents media frum presentin opposin views. IN MY OPINION many in our current Administration an many in Congress have attempted ta do just that in order ta squelch opposin views in order ta maintain thair power an accomplish those thangs they wish ta do.

It's why I feel all journalism in all media should only present the Who, What, Why, When an Where information that is backed up by solid an verifiable facts as people will more times than not side with th planted opinions that has been intentionally instilled in th public mind.

Call it brainwashin or what ever, if ya really cherish Truth, Justice an th American way it's not really a good idea fer th mass media whare ya get th preponderance of information frun ta engage itself in swayin public opinion by filterin what th public is allowed ta see, intentionally or accidentally. Any way ya look at it it's a dangerous an slippery slope ta gettin a government that controls every action of th populace rather than th majority of the population controllin th government IT, accordin ta th Constitution, has created.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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November 06, 2011
hellsbells

Th point isn't that Jon don't have th right ta express his opinion but rather that he is in a position ta make that opinion not only in this but in every article written an published in th Tracy Press.

As such it's very easy fer th entire paper ta be biased in favor of Jon's opinion an thus be much more persuasive ta th readers th Tracy Press serves.

This form of "persuasive" style of newspaper work has long been used throughout th history of newspapers ta foster discontent in th masses ta where th person or personages successfully instill thair opinion on others as "fact" an thus sway th government they are attemptin ta change simply as a successfully launched form of propaganda.

Not sayin that Jon is doin this but recall that many governments an those desirous of topplin those governments fer thair personal gain have utilized media ta convince th masses as ta why they should make a change usin only opinion an baseless allegations without established verifiable facts ta prove beyond doubt thair is in fact a problem.

I could list many examples but space an time prevents me from doin so. Pravda an th comments of Hitler in Mein Kampf regardin spreadin CONT:
hellsbells
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November 04, 2011
Also, not to name, names, BUT... this is an opinion article, say it with me now, O-pin-ion. Not a persuasive point, just simply a personal view. If you're easily persuaded, that's you're problem, maybe you shouldn't be a follower and take it so clearly to heart...
hellsbells
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November 04, 2011
Hey apairro, is it me or do you not know what the hell you are talking about? Yes, because your "insightful" comment was very riveting!
apairro
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November 02, 2011
Is it me? It seems like all the Tracy Press does is bich-n-moan ever since they lost their lawsuit against the city of Tracy? Waaa waaa wah...!?

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 31, 2011
Just remember, th only opinion poll that counts is th one frum th results of th countin of th ballot box.
TomBenigno
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October 30, 2011
Readers:

One out off 83,000 people that's not a good measure of an opinion poll.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
Cont:

personally agree with everythang City Council has ever done, fer th most part they have, in my opinion, done a pretty good job an judgin frum what I have seen done by other City Councils in other City I am of th opinion they have done a better job than most.

It's not rational ta thank that every decision they make is somethang that I or anyone else will agree with. So while I would like em ta be "practically perfect in every way" as a rational person I know that is an impossibility.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

Yep, I knew ya were not addressin me personally with, "you." No fault no foul.

But we will have ta just agree ta disagree on th monitorin of City Council bit.

Ya see ta me th words, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America," defines that we are required to be participatory in our government an not just spectators.

It stands to reason that if We create our government then We need ta run it.

Ta me it's it's an obvious fact that most of "We" don't participate, which is why people can write letters ta th editor askin where Leon Churchill came frum an what he knows about Tracy when he's been here, in office, in Tracy, as Tracy's City Manager since May of 2008.

Now I freely admit I don't follow every sneeze or flatulence that comes out of any City Council member but I do have a very good idea as ta what they are up ta based on what they have done.

An while I don't Cont:
tommybahama
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October 30, 2011
I didn't mean you personally, I was using the term "you" in a general sense of the word.

I do agree with ertion that we shouldn't have to continually monitor our elected representatives but unfortunately that's what it's come down to.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

Ya have just demonstrated adequately why our entire government, frum th Fed an Presidency down th local City Councils across America is havin problems.

So, tell me, when ya put yer car on cruse control, da ya just leave it that way an not monitor it? I hope not cus yer apt ta get yerself killed if ya drive th way ya expect yer government ta run.

I recall th incident whair a commercial aircraft pilot put his aircraft on auto-pilot, went ta sleep, overflew his destination an had ta make an emergency landin cus he was runnin out of fuel. I suppose th passengers were very happy with th performance of this pilot they intrusted thair lives ta.

Bottom line, people don't always do what thair expected ta do, which is why they need to be continually monitored in such cases.

By th way, ya don't need ta shadow me, I am not in control or decide anythang important ta anyone else. So thairs really no need fer ya to replace me cus ya never elected me ta anythang. :) Smiley face)

Of course I don't really thank ya meant me personally even though that's exactly what ya wrote.

I wrote that just ta demonstrate how easily what we write can be misunderstood by others.
ertion
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October 30, 2011
"You're right Ornley, it's the people who don't participate and that is a big part of the problem"

No, you're not right Ornley. I elect you folks, you city council members, as people representing me, to meet and decide things. I see no need to shadow you at your meetings--that's why I elected you.

Now, when the evidence has come in that your judgement is bad, my participation moves to opposing you and replacing you with folks who might have more sense.

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

I have said nothin about not holdin em accountable fer poor performance. If th public, as a whole, thanks they have performed poorly they can move ta have em removed frum office, which has happened before in Tracy's history, or they can vote em out at th next election, which has also historically happened in Tracy before.

We tent ta forget that City Council members are not any different than th rest of us, meanin they have th same human flaws as anyone else.

People "expect" doctors, teachers, preachers, presidents, politicians an others ta be more "super human" without flaws an are thus incapable of makin errors of judgment but, as we know, that is a false expectation in that these people have th same flaws as th rest of us. If ya "expect" yer higher standards frum council or others yer gonna be sadly disappointed. That is exactly why "We the people" MUST be continually involved and participate in th government we essentially have created ta rule over us.

Perhaps th item should have been placed on th open agenda. Did they intentionally try "to shuffle it through on the consent agenda"? Don't know. Can ya prove they did? Whair is th evidence they did?
tommybahama
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October 30, 2011
You're right Ornley, it's the people who don't participate and that is a big part of the problem.

But we shouldn't condone poor performance by our elected officials. Each of them ran on a platform of holding government accountable and making Tracy a better place to live. An item like the city manager's employment contract should have been placed on the open agenda by the council instead of trying to shuffle it through on the consent agenda.

Many of us expect our elected mayor and council to have higher standards than that.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

Sorry, fergot ta add, if it is as ya say that thangs can't be pulled frum th consent calendar, it pretty much indicates Jon didn't do an adequate job of presentin th facts as his article above plainly states, "Any council member or citizen can have a consent calendar item pulled for any reason, after which city staff will give a brief report and the matter will be opened for public and council discussion before it’s voted on individually."

Durin that public an council discussion, before it's voted on individually, th item can be tabled an placed on a future agenda fer more public discussion an council discussion before it's voted on. I personally, over th last 30 years, have seen exactly this happen on several occasions.

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

By th way, "Consent Calendar - All items listed on the Consent Calendar are considered routine and/or consistent with previous Council direction. A motion and roll call vote may enact the entire Consent Calendar. No separate discussion of Consent Calendar items will occur unless members of the City Council, City staff or the public request discussion on a specific item at the beginning of the meeting."

This can be found posted on th City's website on July 19th, 2011. Ya can view it at yer leisure at http://www.ci.tracy.ca.us/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=183

I retrieved it in about 10 seconds with Google by searchin "tracy consent calender" without th quotation marks.

So ya will pardon me if I don't thank yer comment, "Remember, the council, at the request of city staff, changed the rules for pulling an item off the consent agenda about a year ago. Now it takes a councilman or the mayor or a staff member to do so", is entirely correct. Fer one, July 19th, 2011 was only three months ago, not quite a year as ya stated. Th other is that if they had done so it definitely would have been published by Tracy Press an while I don't live an breath on every word they print I do follow what they print on a regular basis an I can't recall seein anythang or hearin any comments that would lead me ta believe that yer correct in yer assertion.

Now if ya have a more recent evidence of such a change I am willin ta look at it.

Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
Cont:

With respect ta yer comment ta ertion an macpup, let me remind ya that ya were th first one ta draw blood in th name callin business. I can see ya regret them doin th same thang ya have done ta many.

But even more, I am pleased ya have finally gotten th message that yer name callin, implied or direct, has stopped.

We all benefit frum more direct discussions of th problems at hand without all th vitriol of adolescent name callin, personal attacks an one-up-man-ship.

So, I'm gonna have ta ask ya ta be a little patient in yer expectations of others ta address ya civilly given what ya yerself have done ta them fer a long long time. Those personal wounds an bruises are gonna take some time ta heal before they too get th same message. Still, ya can't really complain about it too loudly because yer more than guilty of doin th same thang yerself.

Now, if we can, let's all have civil discussions that pertain ta th topic an refrain frum th personal attacks that would probably get ya punched in th nose if ya did it face ta face than frum a comment section in a newspaper.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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October 30, 2011
tommybahama

Regardless how ya slice th bread it wasn't City Council that let ya down, it was yer citizens.

Th legal mechanisms are in place whair it could have been brought ta public discussion an even agendized fer more public comment in th future.

It amazes me how many inerrant clairvoyants are in this city that knows what someone else is thankin or will do. I thank, with such abilities, we would not have any crime an thangs would run swimminly.

Th other thang that I often thank about is now people expect other people ta do what they themselves would do. But all of this pales in significance in that when th public had th chance ta have this item up fer public discussion they, probably in thair ignorance which is what I have been preachin fer awhile now, botched it.

Larn how yer system of government works an use it ta yer benefit. If ya, an not an individual ya but a collective one, put yer government on autopilot an don't participate an operate within th rules that ya, th citizens, essentially have created it's akin ta puttin yer car on cruse control an slidin away frum th steerin wheel. Somehow or other I don't thank ya will get very fer before thangs go wrong. Cont:
tommybahama
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October 29, 2011
Ertion and Macpup: I couldn't agree more. It is the simple fact that a contract of this size would require open discussion and a public vote, if it were being awarded to a private contractor, which is what churchill is.

His "excessive" salary and benefits package will hurt this city for years to come. The council's failure to allow this item to be discussed tells everyone they would rather compromise their duty to the voters in order to avoid any public controversy. Either way, their intent should be called into question right along with churchill's.

bookhater66 and photon: I'm not going to resort to calling you names, as you seem to like to do. I will say that I respect your opinions, but you really should review your comments. You're beginning to sound like a "lynch mob".


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