LAH crafts 'map' on road to improved governance

A path Los Altos Hills officials embarked on late last year to obtain a more polished form of governance now has a map to guide the way. A new subcommittee report proposes the town implement new ideas including a gradually expanded town staff and new ways to support – and not eliminate – volunteer-run committees.

The report, to be reviewed at tonight’s specially scheduled council meeting, is the latest development in a process that began in December, when Councilman Gary Waldeck assumed the mayorship and advocated a 360-degree town analysis by an unbiased, third-party contractor.

“I think this is good for the town, I think it’s good for the staff and it’s good for the council,” Waldeck said at the Dec. 15 city council meeting. “We can see, identify those strengths and build on them, and identify any weaknesses and fix them.”

The council in March hired Management Partners of San Jose for $44,000, and the consultant issued a 32-page report and a 27-page supplement in May.

The documents include dissection of current government processes and procedures, surveys of residents and town staff members and comparisons of Los Altos Hills to peer municipalities. But the crux of the analysis was a list of 25 recommendations, many of which aim to streamline town operations despite limited staff manpower.

“For small cities, almost any issue can rise to be a policy matter requiring city council attention and involvement,” according to the Management Partners report narrative. “This is even more true in affluent communities with high expectations and demands, regardless of financial and staff resource limits.”

Not all suggestions welcomed

The subcommittee that reviewed Management Partners’ recommendations – Waldeck, Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan and City Manager Carl Cahill –prioritized some suggestions over others within their implementation plan.

Cahill referred to the recommendation about eliminating, consolidating or reducing the size of some of the town’s volunteer-run committees as the “most controversial” of the bunch; volunteers speaking at recent council meetings have decried the suggestion as insensitive and unappreciative of their work. And the subcommittee took note.

“The subcommittee, after considering that, realized that’s not necessary at this time, and that rather to look at it from a coaching perspective and a training perspective, to give the committees more guidance in the discharge of their duties and to manage workflow … so no one person is getting overwhelmed,” Cahill said at last month’s council meeting.

The subcommittee report proposes establishing annual committee training courses, improving staff-committee communication about priorities and goals and ramping up involvement from Cahill and each committee’s council liaison.

Staffing changes

A survey conducted as part of Management Partners’ overall analysis revealed that a majority of town employees believe their department is understaffed. But citing economic forecasts predicting financial challenges for California cities, the consultant suggested only limited additions. They include the employment of a part-time senior management analyst to assist Cahill, the employment of a part-time purchasing coordinator, the expansion of a part-time engineering support position to full time and the beefing up of an assistant engineer position from contract to full time. A new, full-time assistant engineer is set to start work this week, but the subcommittee report indicates officials otherwise prefer to continue evaluating staffing needs over time.

“We decided that instead of hiring a bunch of people at once, we would do it gradually,” Cahill said in a phone interview last week.

He pointed out that the town already has made “substantive” changes to staffing within the past two years; additions include a maintenance worker, a Parks and Recreation Department aide and a part-time code enforcement officer.

Town officials believe that it makes more sense to add “frontline,” public-interfacing positions like those and the assistant engineer position, rather than behind-the-scenes positions like part-time senior management analyst, Cahill said.

The rollout in June of “LAH Connect,” an app that streamlines residents’ maintenance requests, should help address Management Partners’ concerns about impromptu resident-initiated projects taking time away from established town priorities, according to the subcommittee report. Instead, such requests will be more efficiently integrated into the workflow.

The subcommittee embraced recommendations related to improving public communications and transparency, and several measures toward that goal are already underway or complete. They include the town’s maintenance of an active social media presence, the issuance of newsletters and weekly city manager reports featuring project updates, software for navigating the town’s permitting process and updated educational resources on land use and permitting processes.

The Los Altos Hills City Council meeting is scheduled 6 p.m. today at town hall, 26379 W. Fremont Road.

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