Last week’s Los Altos City Council meeting was downright surreal. The few visitors on hand should be forgiven for pinching themselves to make sure that what they saw was really happening.
First, a city-paid consultant-mediator type asked councilmembers and city staffers to say something nice about each other during the meeting, a continuation of last month’s council retreat.
Any lessons learned from this kindness exercise were short-lived. Councilwoman Val Carpenter subsequently proceeded to rattle off a laundry list of transgressions committed by City Manager Marcia Somers and Assistant City Manager James Walgren, much like a schoolteacher addressing naughty children.
Carpenter was not completely unjustified in expressing her disappointment with staff. She rightfully noted that approval for fairly large projects on public property, such as the two-story storage shed at the Los Altos History Museum, should have come before the council. We also can understand her frustration with finding out about the project approval from a resident instead of city staff.
However, the level of ire directed at staff and the belaboring of her points served to undermine Carpenter’s position.
Walgren and Somers admitted that the staff had erred in approving the History Museum storage shed, but the lengthy public reprimand was inappropriate.
Unlike the “I’m OK, you’re OK” waste of time that began the meeting, the topic of staff limits on approvals was a worthwhile discussion point. It’s too bad that Carpenter’s histrionics ended up making her look petty while the city staffers’ humility made them look like they were on trial.
One small consolation: The special meeting was not televised, sparing Carpenter and the rest of the council further embarrassment.