On Tuesday, the Brentwood City Council opted to postpone a decision on appointments to the Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission after the process had been questioned and transparency issues were shared.
Councilwoman Jovita Mendoza pulled the item from the consent calendar seeking to understand the process that was used in the selection of the appointments to the Park and Recreation Commission (Blythe Lind, Gina Bravo and Kevin Peltz) and the Planning Commission (Emily Cross, David Dolter, and Faye Meloney) by Mayor Joel Bryant and Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez.
Typically, it is the mayor and vice mayor who interview applicants and make appointments based off an interview process. The rest of the council could then vote to approve or reject the suggested appointment.
City Manager Tim Ogden confirmed Wednesday morning that the councils actions Tuesday has put a hold on all commission appointments until the council decides on a process going forward.
In her comments Tuesday, Mendoza argued she wanted to make sure the best candidates were selected. She stated that if the council was going to ask questions to one candidate, then all candidates should be available for questions.
“I’ve done a little research on why we have this process, it is a custom that the mayor and vice mayor interview, but it is not policy,” stated Mendoza. “You select them and we either uphold your selection or you don’t. We are at 80% build out so we have some really big developments coming up… with only 20% build out it is critical that we get the cream of the crop. When I reviewed the applications, I was a little bit disappointed and I was disappointed because we sat here for over six-hours where you and the vice mayor really talked about how we can do an application process and we can get the best quality person and I was on board and I expected that was going to happen.”
Mendoza then questioned why someone like Cindy Hankins who she called “phenomenal” and someone who understand architecture and why things have to look the way they do while being critical of Emily Cross asking the rest of the council if they watched the last two planning commission meetings noting her concerns.
“It is my understanding that when a developer comes to the city and wants concessions, there needs to be something in it for the residents and three of the commissioners were easily, okay, lets give up concessions and I was not happy with,” stated Mendoza who highlighted again her concerns with not getting the “cream of the crop” or “best qualified” and the council would then have to start babysitting the commission. “I don’t want to pull things for review when people don’t follow the general plan.”
Mendoza asked to review the rationale to understand the decision while also asking to “redo it” with all five of them listening to the interviews and hearing the answers.
Councilwoman Susannah Meyer stated she believed there was a transparency issue given the amount of residents who are engaged. She believed the applications should have been made public so everyone could review. She also wanted to see consistency in the criteria in a selection, minimum level of engagement in the community, understanding of issues and qualifications.
“The process in general can be improved a bit to increase transparency,” stated Meyer.
The city attorney Damien Brower jumped into remind the council they are there to talk about the selection of candidates, not the process. If they wanted to discuss the process, that would be at a future meeting.
Councilwoman Karen Rarey stated in the past she has had concerns as to the council not knowing why someone was appointed.
“We just kind of whatever the mayor says we all kind of agreed with it without understanding who applied,” stated Rarey who noted it’s a lot of detailed work. “Looking over the applications and resumes I do have some concerns with the process in this and maybe it was the way questions were answers during the interview process that made the difference between the application and their real life experiences and what they see in the city and so forth.”
Vice Mayor Johnny Rodriquez highlighted there were 11 candidates and each candidate had 8 questions to answer, the same questions and nobody received anything different.
“Out of the 11 candidates, we had a lot of really good candidates that applied. Looking at their resumes, some people may think differently but that is everybody’s opinion,” stated Rodriquez. “What was interesting was the interviews in how they were able to answer the questions. I think for me not only the resumes that speak volumes, but the knowledge and understanding the process.”
Rodriquez stated he believe the process was “good” but could understand why other councilmembers might have an issue with transparency.
Mayor Joel Bryant stated one of the things clear in the process that many had experience in business, planning, design process and being able to comprehensively answer questions.
“Some of the questions are open enough to let us know if they have an in depth understanding of the process as the end result of it. The consequences of it, the unintended consequences of the decisions,” explained Bryant. “I agree with some of the things are council has said tonight and this is a process that has been inherited, but we are not making a decision on processes tonight like our city attorney said, but I understand the questions and I am certainly open to making some adjustments. Anything can be improved and there has been some good suggestions.”
Bryant explained to the rest of the council that he had asked staff to ensure the candidates selected were available was so the council could ask questions of them. He stated they had some good candidates and this was not a simple decision.
Bryant also highlighted that resumes often look impressive, but during an interview process certain things stand out.
“All three that I am recommending for the planning commission, the attributes that they were able to handle the questions and knowledge and personal experiences in working with other planning commission or cities as well, that is what brought me to this decision,” explained Bryant.
Mendoza stated what she wanted was a copy of all 11 applicants interview questions and both Bryant and Rodriquez interview notes, along with staffs notes.
“Have you and vice mayor watched the last few planning commission meetings?” asked Mendoza in which Bryant replied he does watch them but did not watch the last one.
“So you have concrete information about how one of your selected people would perform and that is the best interview there. The best. So that concerns me. The last one was a big one and that might have swayed your decision,” stated Mendoza who asked Bryant again if he wanted the best candidates.
Bryant replied saying he thought the best candidates were selected.
“So you interview in a silo is what I am hearing,” stated Mendoza.
“We went through an interview process and these are the ones in that group that I feel interviewed the best and have the best opportunity to serve the community well,” stated Bryant told Mendoza she was free to ask the applicants questions.
Mendoza then argued why she wasn’t allowed to ask Bryant why he made the decision. This prompted Bryant to reply he did.
Mendoza shot back stated he had given them “peripheral and not exactly said these are the answers that made them the best fit”. She asked him to go through each candidate and why they were the best fit.
“I selected each one by the way they interviewed, their experiences, their resume and by the answers they gave by the questions we asked,” stated Bryant.
That did not appease Mendoza.
“You are not answering the question, you are avoiding the question,” stated Mendoza. “Emily Cross, why did you select Emily Cross?”
Bryant replied, “She interviewed well. Had experience and answered the questions well.”
Mendoza interrupted, “what did she answer well to your liking?”
Bryant stated she answered the questions.
Mendoza interrupted Bryant again before Bryant shut her down saying this was not the process.
“You want me to trust your decisions, but you wont tell me why I should trust your decisions,” stated Mendoza saying he has not been direct with his answers.
Bryant disagreed and stated they are not running a council meeting like this.
“The process is if you are approving them, we will vote. If you are disapproving them, we will vote,” stated Bryant and will move forward.
Mendoza then made a motion they wait before putting it out for a vote so staff can provide the rest of the council with the information—such as notes from the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Staff.
Bryant stated that his notes are not for public view and would not release them.
“My personal notes are my personal notes,” explained Bryant.
Mendoza stated, “this is a role that serves the people but we can’t see it?”
Bryant again reiterated they were his personal notes while Mendoza argued they were his personal notes in the role of mayor for the City of Brentwood.
“They are not your notes, they are city notes and can be requested through a Freedom of Information act,” said Mendoza.
The City Attorney stated anything can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request which include exceptions such as draft documents and notes. He explained while things can be requested, one may not be able to receive them.
Mendoza then made the request for the notes on behalf of the council.
The City Attorney then stated one option that if the council is not prepared to vote tonight, continue the matter to another meeting and see about changing the process.
Rarey confirmed that to change the process of selection of the commissions, it would have to be requested and done at a future agenda meeting.
Mendoza called for redoing the process because she was not comfortable voting on candidates when information was being withheld and wouldn’t do that to the voters who voted for her in the election.
Rodriquez suggested that if the council has questions for the three applicants put forward, they can ask the questions to them.
Mendoza stated she wanted to ask all the applicants questions and review the notes.
Rodriquez then asked Mendoza that based on his notes, it would determine if they were qualified.
“Yes, you are vice mayor and there is expectations with that and you would take good notes as to such an important role. Yes, you are very responsible for that,” stated Mendoza.
Mendoza stated this is not about the Mayor or vice mayor, but rather the process needing to change.
Bryant confirmed her request with the city attorney to move this matter to a future date. This change in process would apply to all commissions.
The council then voted to postpone the item to a future meeting.