Mon10202014

Council's interview process flawed

Last week’s interviews for open seats on Los Altos city commissions drew a larger-than-usual number of candidates. That’s due in part because former Los Altos Hills Councilman Jean Mordo, candidate for the Planning and Transportation Commission (PTC), publicly raised the point of a lack of transparency with the city’s interview process.

Although the interviews are technically open to the public, they’re conducted at “special” sessions at inconvenient times – in this case, 5:15 p.m. – and held in a small conference room as opposed to the council chambers. In addition, the special sessions are not videotaped like the regular council meetings.

This time, eight candidates vying for seats on the PTC and Finance commissions showed up along with some friends. The small conference room at city hall was crowded with approximately 30 people, while the council chambers remained empty. Fortunately, more people than just the candidates were able to witness the problems that continue to plague the city’s interview process.

Problems include not holding the session in the council chambers (despite efforts by Councilwoman Jan Pepper to make it happen), a superficial interview process with 10 minutes or less per candidate, and missed opportunities to ask the most vital questions. The PTC candidates discussed mostly transportation issues – the city was filling a seat that requires transportation knowledge. But the most important question on development philosophy went unasked. You can fix a transportation mistake, but once you allow a building, it’s there forever.

The transportation emphasis was there in the first place because of a previous council’s questionable move to combine the Planning and Transportation commissions. The move diluted effectiveness by combining two disciplines that draw interest and experience from people with different skill sets.

Finally, the council’s choice for the PTC had some attendees scratching their heads. Nothing against Ken Lorell, but he’s already served six years (and was forced off when the council merged the commissions), and there was no shortage of qualified applicants. A haphazard vote-tallying process had councilmembers vocalizing their choices, causing at least one member to change a vote midstream based on what another said. Yes, the session was transparent in showing that the majority of councilmembers could still stand to improve the process – and their judgment.

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