City Council approves grand jury response with no discussion
July 28, 2010
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – In less than five minutes and without discussion, the South Lake Tahoe City Council approved a response Tuesday to a scathing El Dorado County grand jury report that called them unprofessional, hostile and prone to bickering and nitpicking.
The legally required response will be sent to presiding El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Kingsbury bearing the names of City Council members, but the bulk of the 20-page response was written by City Manager David Jinkens.
City Attorney Patrick Enright and “a few key staff members knowledgeable in specific areas” reviewed drafts of the response before the final draft was presented to the Council, Jinkens wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
The City Council was not part of the writing of the response and council members did not to make any changes to the draft prepared by Jinkens on Tuesday. Several typos will be corrected before the response is submitted, Jinkens wrote in the e-mail.
At the start of the item where the response was scheduled for discussion, Jinkens said he was proud of city staff and said the city’s “general maxim” respects the public’s right to know. The city responded to the June grand jury report to the extent allowed, given the report’s discussion of legally-protected personnel matters, Jinkens said.
Following the brief statement, Councilman Bruce Grego motioned to approve the response. Councilman Hal Cole seconded Grego’s motion. Mayor Kathay Lovell also voted “yes.”
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Councilman Jerry Birdwell voted against approval of the response without giving a reason.
Birdwell said he disagreed with the response’s criticism of the grand jury report and said the city should have taken all of the report’s recommendations to heart during a phone interview following Tuesday’s meeting.
Councilman Bill Crawford left the meeting prior to the item.
The response agrees to recommendations to schedule formal training regarding Caliͨfornia’s open-meeting laws and review policies regarding nepotism, how items are placed on a meeting agenda and harassment and discrimination among elected officials.
The response contends an ombudsman, a person who would be employed to investigate complaints against the city, is unnecessary to ensure the city adheres to written policies rather than historically adopted practices.
The City Council contends an “earnest attempt” was made to respond to the grand jury report, but at least one passage of the response shows otherwise.
The report states the public believes the council “operates at an inconsistent and barely functional level,” is “incapable of maintaining confidences,” “operates in an atmosphere of intimidation,” is “frequently distracted from important city business by personal feuds” and is “bush league.”
The Fourth Edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “bush league” as “minor league” or “any small or second-rate sphere of activity, etc.”
Despite the accessibility of the definition of the term “bush league,” the city’s response to the grand jury passage begins with: “The city is unfamiliar with the term ‘bush league,'” before continuing:
“In spite of the divisive actions, statements and conduct by some City Council members, the City Council and city government still continued to maintain and provide essential community services including police, fire, EMS and snow removal during a this period of time even when other cities, counties and state government were facing disarray and dysfunction.”
“The city is committed to reviewing and strengthening existing ethics policies and including them in their adopted City Council protocols. Ultimately, the quality of local government is heavily dependent on the quality of elected leadership, and the city encourages responsible and eligible people to run for public office.”