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Should Fremont have a full-time council?

Councilmember Anu Natarajan thinks so. But she might be the only one. The city council has agreed to consider the idea, but likely will shelve it. Mayor Wasserman said Tuesday that he doesn’t want to be a full-time mayor. Bill Harrison and Bob Wieckowski don’t seem too keen on the idea either.
I suspect Harrison would rather be a part-time mayor down the line than a full-time councilmember. And Wieckowski is a bankruptcy lawyer. Why would he go full-time city council during the worst economic crisis in decades?

Natarajan does make some interesting points.

I worked for a couple of years in Berkeley, which has kind of hybrid system. The council members don’t get paid that much, and don’t work full-time, but they do have staff members who make more than they do and deal with policy and constituent matters. Council members are expected to initiate more policy proposals than in Fremont.

I’m sure some people would say staffers are a waste of money, but, hey, once you reach a point where every full-time firefighter makes more than 100k, it’s hard to play cheapskate on a relatively minor expense?

In Berkeley, the staff members had offices at City Hall, and their functions were very much a product of their boss. One councilman — a real lefty — basically ran a social services operation out of his office. I remember his staff member helping a needy person move.

Another council member, who was a retired scientist, basically ran a shadow staff out of his office, employing interns to produce spreadsheets crunching data on various city issues.

Most had them working on constituent services, so people prickly Berkeley voters wouldn’t hate them too much.

The best thing about council staffers is they usually like to gossip with people like me. They’re in City Hall all the time, they’re politically-minded people, but they’re allegiances aren’t with the city manager. I miss them.

Matt Artz

  • Jon Simon

    What would council members do differently if they were full-time?

  • Schmelzpunkt

    Horrible idea. The council is a body of community members who are supposed to lead regular lives, rather than a group of professional politicians.

  • Dirk Lorenz

    Well… we get what we pay for. I was always a fan of not paying council…especially in tough times. Yet, since my time on planning commission…I have gained a new perspective. Take this week for instance…I have an EIR to review (about 200 pages) along with a full agenda for this weeks meeting. All the while I have a business to run (in the most challenging economic time I have seen in 26 years of business) Had I run for council and been successful, I would have used the $1,300 +- per month salary to pay a part time person to cover the time I could not spend in my business. That is the sacrafice one makes. Now… I am uncertain of Councilperson Natarajans situation, yet I believe she is an architect by trade. I can’t help think of what she is giving up from a salary standpoint to serve on council. One does not serve on the council for the money. Yet, we need the next generation to step up and take the reins… and its hard to do if you are working and raising a family. I claim that if we want as Schmelzpunkt says “a body of community members who are supposed to lead regular lives”…then we have to be able to provide compensation that enables them to serve. I am glad I did not run…as the state of my retail business just simply could not afford me to do so.

  • bbox231

    A May 2007 issue of the Tri-City Voice touched on this same topic – here were some thoughts on the idea of a professional city council and mayor.

    Is there life after death?

    Many lively discussions have centered on the subject of an afterlife. No matter how long we live, mortality is a given. Contemplation of what follows is by conjecture and faith. Benjamin Franklin, when asked about certainty, quipped, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Every now and then we hear about those who find ways to circumvent the latter, but there are few, if any, who claim to escape the former. Pete Seeger’s song, Turn! Turn! Turn! sung by Seegar, The Limelighters and popularized by The Byrds in the ’60′s borrowed its lyrics from the Book of Ecclesiastes noting that there is a time and place for all things.

    These basic “truths” have been generally accepted by most in secular life. But, some battle mightily against termination even when it has been prescribed with a binding agreement. At inception, the life of a Redevelopment Agency is typically limited with known benchmarks. This body is given birth through redirected tax dollars from other governmental agencies; they allow this income drain to achieve a defined set of objectives through a series of tasks within a specific period of time. Redevelopment has “its season” to create and flourish. Then it is time for free market forces to expand on the economic seeds planted by the agency. Of course, if few seeds are sown, not much will grow and results will be minor. Overhead expenses, expert fees, studies and plan amendment allowances are not productive unless they create tangible results.

    The Fremont Redevelopment Agency is currently fighting to indefinitely prolong its season of life by putting a considerable amount toward a life after death. Quickly approaching its spending cap, the agency has not only projected an expense of $850,000 for “funding for possible Plan Amendment to allow raising Industrial Redevelopment Project Area TI revenue cap” but is busily feathering its nest in “Opportunity Fund/Contingency” with another $20 million. This is an agency that has stated that its funding cap will be reached within approximately four years! Couple this with a budget for FY 2007/08 of $1.7 million for salaries and benefits. Are these the actions of an agency preparing for its demise?

    Fremont has drafted a set of “General Guidelines” to direct staff in negotiations with the A’s proposed Ballpark Village Project. Guideline #5 states, “The City may work with the Redevelopment Agency to use resources for activities permitted under the Industrial Redevelopment Plan.” What are these resources? There are guidelines that talk about restricting new taxes and fees, but what about $20 million of “opportunity” redevelopment funds? Is this money up for grabs? Will redevelopment staff, costing close to $1.7 million a year, continue to drink at the trough?

    What would happen if the citizens of Fremont decided to let the Redevelopment Agency live through the remainder of its season and then expire? Would the city crumble without this agency? I think not. How about using ex-redevelopment money that would return to the General Fund to pay full-time professional councilmembers and an elected full-time mayor to manage the city? If we expanded the council to seven members and paid each $100,000 per year and a mayor $150,000 per year, the cost would be less than the current salary and benefits for the Redevelopment Agency. The present city manager could remain, if hired by the mayor, as an assistant (sorry, city manager benefits of over $250,000 would have to go). This arrangement will create more direct communication between staff and the electorate.

    A group of citizens is currently forming to explore the feasibility of a city charter and revised city government structure. These are important questions that deserve an answer especially when significant changes such as a professional league ballpark village and a new General Plan are envisioned. Interested citizens can contact TCV for additional information.

  • k.Brinlee

    Why did she run , and if she took the job she took it with knowing that it was not full time….

  • Charlotte Allen

    I think the Tri-City voice raises some interesting questions about the Redevelopment Agency and the possibility of using some of its revenues to fund City Council salaries.

  • Schmelzpunkt

    I can see where you’re coming from Mr. Lorenz, but I still disagree. Folks whose dayjob it is to legislate (especially at the municipal level) will just increase the number of nonsensical laws on the books. We see this at the state level, where thousands of bills are deliberated, and hundreds of them are signed into law each year. Are our lives getting better? Not noticably so.

    How can these people lead regular lives if they’re not out in the workforce, actually having to work hard for their money?