When former Los Altos Hills City Councilman Jean Mordo moved to Los Altos earlier this year, he made it a goal to continue his active involvement in local government. So when a seat opened on the Los Altos Planning and Transportation Commission, Mordo jumped at the opportunity to apply.
He was the only applicant. But he did not get the position – at least not yet.
Los Altos councilmembers, who interview candidates and approve appointments, decided to continue seeking additional prospects for the seven-member commission.
Although Mordo was disappointed, he said he was also concerned about how the council handled the process. He said the council scheduled him ahead of the regularly agendized 7 p.m. Sept. 10 meeting, and interviewed him for 10 minutes. He felt that the council wanted to keep the interview closed to the general public.
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins said the council’s decision was “no reflection on Jean.”
Bruins said the interview session was public and properly noticed. But she acknowledged that Mordo’s case brings to light several problems with the process for interviewing and selecting members for city commissions and committees.
For one, the city has no policy in place that designates who should notify candidates on the status of their applications. Bruins took it upon herself to call Mordo after discovering that no one had contacted him a week after his interview.
Bruins agreed that the interviews, conducted in a conference room rather than the council chambers, might convey the appearance that they are not open to the public.
“It’s a public meeting – it’s posted as a public meeting,” she said. “(But) by having it in a conference room, does it suggest a different thing?”
Another challenge involves the Brown Act, California’s open meetings law. The law prohibits councilmembers from communicating privately about items prior to public airing. Bruins said it was only after the interview that the council realized the need to appoint someone with a stronger transportation background, as the commissioner who most recently resigned had such expertise.
The original advertisement for commission applicants included the transportation component but did not emphasize it. When Bruins told Mordo about wanting someone with transportation experience, it came across to Mordo as if the council changed the qualifications after the fact.
“I agree that there is room for improvement (in the process),” Bruins said. “I can understand (Mordo’s frustration) with the way it was handled.”
“Jean did not get rejected,” emphasized Councilwoman Jan Pepper.
Mordo is still being considered for the commission, Pepper and Bruins said, as the council has expanded the timeline to draw more applicants.
The city plans to readvertise the openings on the Planning and Transportation and Senior commissions over the next few months, Bruins said.