Since news broke that staff at the City of Oakley were recommending cutting funding for park maintenance with the school district. It seems like everyone had an opinion. Unfortunately, residents of Oakley were not provided an opportunity to speak on the matter during Tuesdays Oakley City Council meeting.
This was wrong and should never happen again.
In what has become a major item of contention for the City of Oakley, the council had little choice but to table the item indefinitely after the action would have likely resulted in the future shuttering of four local parks.
While the council should be applauded for tabling the item in an attempt to strike a deal with the school district, at the same time, they should also be reprimanded for their erroneous error in failing to allow the public an opportunity to weigh in on the matter via public comments.
Here is a quick recap of what transpired.
With Item 5.2 being at the back end of the Agenda, once the Pledge of Allegiance was taken, Councilman Kevin Romick pulled item 5.2 and motioned to table it.
“I move that we continue Item 5.2 indefinitely. I do not believe this item is ready for consideration tonight. I’d like to give our staff and the school district more time to discuss and resolve the issues that have been raised,” said Romick. “I ask that we take up this issue now.”
Mayor Claire Alaura noted all the input they have received by email and will be incorporated into the record.
City Attorney Derek Cole stated the motion by Romick was to continue the item without a date of return which could return at any time depending on how negotiations go. The council could also hear from the public.
Councilman Randy Pope asked Romick to amend his motion to include the creation of a subcommittee of two city councilmembers and two school board members. Romick agreed.
It was at that point, knowing the room was full of members of the community who wanted to speak, that is when the public should have been provided an opportunity to speak on the issue. Instead, the council moved quickly with a 5-0 vote and moved on with the meeting.
Many residents were left wondering why they could not speak or not allowed to speak.
Sadly, the council never once informed those in attendance that the vote was the end of the item. Those wishing to speak would not get an opportunity as Alaura an hour later said they already addressed Item 5.2 and would not be having any public comment.
Oakley residents should be angry and frustrated with the way the city is running things. It is inexcusable to not give the public an opportunity to chime in, but rather implement a savvy political stunt that inadvertently suppressed residents of their voice on a contentious item.
It doesn’t matter if people are for or against the funding of the parks at $150k per year, what matters is the opportunity for people to be heard and express their desires.
The action took away the chance to gain a pulse of what direction the public wanted to head. The opportunity to hear possible solutions, express frustrations, potentially address issues such as why recycled water is not being placed at those parks to keep then green and lower costs. An opportunity for the school district to explain why $150k is not enough money 20-years into a contract.
A proper discussion and dialogue could have set the stage for a series of action items for this so-called committee to tackle. Instead, the community once again gets left in the dark by design.
Bottom line, city staff did not want to hear from the community based off social media comments already posted. They want this issue to go away as quickly as possible and did not want public comment because the media would have reported it—instead, some media have opted to simply pull comments off social media as quotes.
In fact, I believe the city’s childish stunt backfired on them by posting more than 30 photographs of local parks in despair in an attempt to win points in the public jury of social media—the community didn’t take the bait and many called out the city on their pettiness.
Frankly, the last thing city hall wanted was to be called out in a public forum and during a meeting that was recorded. Especially when there is little doubt city hall will try and push this through at a later date when perhaps less people are paying attention–say around the Holidays.
The irony in all of this is this is the same council that complains no one shows up and the community is not engaged with city business. Now when they do, the Mayor says they would not be taking comments from the public, thus suppressing the public from voicing their concerns over the staff recommendation or from publicly asking questions on the item.
Even Superintendent Greg Hetrick attended the meeting saying he was hoping to speak on the item, but they did not allow comments. You would think the council would want to hear from the Superintendent on the matter in a public forum.
And remember, the staff report was yet another incomplete document that painted the city in good light and trashes the school district. But the real question is what has the city actually done to improve the situation? That documentation would have been nice for the public to be aware of and form an educated opinion on the matter—not just the select opinion of city staff.
Perhaps include a report of how the City has managed those four parks. Or a report showing how the school district has spent the $150k each year. Instead, the community is left wondering why the only solution for Oakley to fixing parks is to walk away from the problem.
That is not leadership, that is taking one’s ball and going home. Real leadership is developing a 5-year plan within the remainder of the contract of how to fix some of the issues. Leadership is finding a win for the community, not potentially taking an action that would make things worse while washing their hands of all responsibility.
Even worse, for those who didn’t watch the meeting, during another agenda item, Councilman Pope bragged about how they have a very healthy general fund which is higher than their required amount—but city staff wants to take the first step to shutter parks over $150k? It makes little sense if they have the funding in reserves anyway.
And let’s go a step further from yet another agenda item Tuesday.
This is the same city council that agreed to shifting $600k around from one project to another—in this case, they took money from the Nunn-Wilson Park ballfields and used it for the Oakley Recreation Center field on O’Hara. This only comes up because Public Works Director Kevin Rohani awards the contract, realizing the money wasn’t allocated and now they have to loan the money from the General Fund for the project. Rohani said Tuesday they had no timeline of when the money would be paid back.
But staff is focused on a $150k contract that has been going on for 20-years?
What is transpiring at city hall is embarrassing and quality control is lacking. For example, those that want to review video from Tuesday, Item 5.2 has been scrubbed from the index—those looking for it will have to know exactly where to find the discussion among the council.
How is that transparent?
Based on actions Tuesday, Oakley residents should be on high alert going forward and ensure their voices be heard on any topic. What happened Tuesday should never occur again in suppressing the public. It is both alarming and divisive, and it’s no wonder many in the public have lost faith in local leadership.
Sadly, this fiasco is all over parks—something that improves the quality of life in a community. One has to wonder what kind of shenanigans they are pulling on other items that fail to gain much attention.
Transparency and public input should matter. At least I think so and I would hope members of the community would agree.
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