Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Costa Mesa Management Training Session

Yesterday afternoon 3/5ths of the Costa Mesa City Council and most of the city government department heads met in Conference Room 1A for a training session conducted by lawyer Laura Kalty of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore billed as "Effective Communications in Local Government".  Councilman Gary Monahan and Mayor Jim Righeimer were absent.

The meeting was run by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger and took about an hour.  Kalty moved through her PowerPoint presentation crisply and with authority.  For most officials in the room this was not new information.  It's too bad that Righeimer, in particular, was absent because - based on the subject matter presented - he needed this information more than the rest.  I'm not going to attempt a verbatim transcript here - the video of the meeting will be placed online for viewing, hopefully today.  Go HERE and select the meeting from the roster when it's available.  I will, however, give you my impressions of the presentation and the reactions to it.

Kalty spoke of the council's role, proper city conduct and also discussed liability issues.  She clearly delineated the roles of each "branch" of city government: Council, CEO/City Manager and Staff.   The council is responsible to carry out the city's mission.  The CEO/City Manager is responsible to the council for overseeing the day to day operations of the city.  The Staff is responsible to the CEO/City Manager for carrying out the day to day duties.

As she discussed the City Council's role, one phrase on a slide caught my eye.  It said: The mission is achieved by providing good customer service to City constituents using best and highest ethics. (The emphasis is mine).  She went on to present Municipal Code references defining the roles and, specifically, mentioned Section 2-115 - Control and direction of employees - and Section 2-106 - Interference by council in administrative affairs.  A healthy discussion took place during which it was determined that a councilmember could, as a member of the community, call in grafitti issues or code enforcement problems, without violating the prohibition of giving staff direction.  It was also made clear that, although the cleanest process is for council members to work directly with the CEO/City Manager on staff-related issues, he could delegate some of his authority to others - like the Assistant CEO, for example.

Communications guidelines were discussed, emphasizing the need for the council and CEO/City Manager to be on the same page when information is disseminated to the public.  It was stressed that the "story" should not be told by others to avoid misinterpretation of the issue.

On her slide titled, "What is Proper City Conduct", Kalty listed and discussed these issues:
  • Loyalty to mission of the City that is free from loyalties to others, including each individual members personal interest as a consumer.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest
  • Act ethically
  • Respect confidentiality when appropriate
  • "Act" in a unified manner
  • Treat differences of opinion in a respectful manner.
OK, now, I'm sure a few of you reacted to that one, just as I and several members of the audience in attendance yesterday afternoon did.  We've all see flagrant violations of at least a couple of those items over the past couple years, sometimes many times.  Again, I'm disappointed Righeimer wasn't in attendance.

Kalty then went on to discuss the "Values of the Council":
  1. Trust
  2. Responsibility
  3. Respect
  4. Compassion
  5. Fairness
She described Trust as the primary responsibility and my head was spinning as I recalled the many times that trust has been violated recently.

The bullet points she used during the discussion of "Respect" were these:
  • Treat disagreement with dignity
  • Do not make it personal
  • Listen and seek other points of view
  • Understand that others have different styles, personalities, decision-making processes
  • Misunderstanding/tension arises from different working styles
  • Must identify, address and value different working styles
  • Focus on issues, not individuals (Do not denigrate.  Do not insult)
During this discussion Kalty stressed that part of respect is listening.  She opined that there is a basic human need to feel "heard".  Those of you who have attempted to be "heard" by this current council may find yourselves nodding your heads as you read those points.

In her discussion of "Compassion" she listed and discussed:
  • Make government accessible
  • Recognize efforts of staff
  • Hear the opinions of others
  • Do not pass judgement quickly
 Again, Righeimer needed to hear this segment.  His recent actions of splitting the Public Comments segment into pieces effectively disenfranchised several members of the community who wished to present their views.  By doing so he may not have violated any rules, but he certainly stiff-armed the public.  A curious move for a guy who may run for re-election in a year.

Kalty's discussion of "Fairness" included:
  • Act without bias or personal motivation
  • Recusal when necessary
  • Treat people fairly without discrimination
  • Treat public with dignity and empathy
And, once again, the fact that Righeimer was absent from this meeting was disappointing.

She then launched off into a discussion of Liability Issues, and used recently-disgraced San Diego's touchy-feely Mayor Bob Filner as the poster boy for how NOT to act.  She stressed that council members, in addition to potentially placing the City into a legal quandary, also may have PERSONAL liability for their actions while office.

Kalty discussed what defines a "Hostile Work Environment", using the following examples of issues that may constitute such an environment:
  • Protected Classification
  • Verbal, Visual or Physical Conduct
  • Objectively and Subjectively Offensive (Unwelcome)
  • Severe or Pervasive
  • Unreasonably interferes with Work
  • No Intent to Harass Necessary
Following a discussion of Retaliation she led us to the issue of Bullying and used the following as definitions of bullying:
  • Repeated and persistent attempts by one person to torment, frustrate, provoke or intimidate another person
  • A type of interpersonal aggression that goes beyond simple incivility and is marked by frequency, intensity and duration.
As part of that discussion she displayed a slide and discussed the following examples of excuses used by bullies:
  • You are just oversensitive
  • Hey, I just tell it like it is
  • I was just kidding!
  • Are you still mad about that?!
  • I did not do/say that!
  • I'm laughing with you, not at you.
  • Just what is your problem?
Kalty discussed the impact of bullying, which includes:
  • Decreased Productivity
  • Physical/Emotional Stress
  • Increased Absenteeism
  • Increase in Harassment Claims and Worker's Compensation Claims
I smiled as I watched Steve Mensinger's reaction to this segment of the discussion.

After a short discussion of the consequences in the form of back pay and punitive damages, she wrapped up with the following: "Respect is the key to effective communications and minimizing City liability."

It is my impression that Wendy Leece and Sandra Genis, by the nature of their questions during this training session and the answers they received, recognized areas where they may need to improve.  Not so much with Mensinger.  I think he still thinks everyone else is wrong and will continue to only pay lip service to the need to have all voices heard.  In theory, both Monahan and Righeimer will be required to receive this same training - I wouldn't hold my breath for that to happen.

As an old HR guy, much of this information was not new to me, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to observe the presentation - and to watch the reaction to it by our city officials.

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