Ruffled feathers at TRPA
November 23, 2005
Tahoe’s most influential regulatory agency is asking its Governing Board to sign some rules of its own after an alleged history of board members violating unspoken professional standards.
John Singlaub, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, presented the 10 rules of conduct to the board at last week’s meeting, saying it would do a lot to improve morale among TRPA staff.
After an apparent lack of consensus to sign the agreement, Chairman Tim Smith delayed a vote, pending a rewrite.
Some took issue with the wording of the rules and thought they should be brought as a resolution before the board as a concept, instead of a paper each member should sign.
“The tone was more accusatory than instructive,” said board member Jerome Waldie, a California Senate appointee. “And requesting every member sign it was offensive. I’ve never been asked to sign an agreement that I not misbehave.”
Presidential appointee Stuart Yount said he had no problem with the agreement as it was written.
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“It was more an affirmation by the board to show that we support and respect the staff,” Yount said.
At a retreat this summer, the board discussed its relationship with staff and agreed to come up with some standards of conduct, Singlaub said.
But Waldie did not remember agreeing the rules would come in the form of a signed agreement.
“It suggests that you can’t trust the (board) members by a vote, that you have to have a contract with the members.”
In the past, all 10 rules proposed have been violated, Singlaub said, and such codes of conduct are common practice in other government settings.
There are procedures already in place to deal with lapses in conduct, Waldie said, and a piece of paper will not effectively address the issue.
“There seems to be a disconnect between staff and board. We need to improve those communications,” Singlaub told the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Wednesday. “The feeling among staff is that we are in an adversarial relationship, but that should not be.”
South Lake Tahoe City Councilman Mike Weber, who will replace Councilman John Upton on the TRPA board next year, said he was offended by the document. He took particular issue with item three, which says “To agree to trust the intentions and information offered.”
“We are overseers, not just rubber stamps,” Weber said. “You earn trust, you don’t get it by having somebody sign a document or an oath of allegiance.”
There have been allegations over the years that TRPA staff have not presented accurate scientific data or that staff have personal agendas when requesting action of the board. At the same time, staff have been praised at several governing board meeting by board members for their hard work.
Weber thought item three of the rules would impede the board’s ability to debate information.
Board member and Carson City Supervisor Shelly Aldean expressed the same sentiment of item three but said the agreement itself would be a minor concession the board could make.
“It’s incumbent on the board to question the validity or the relevance of the information before us,” Aldean said. At the same time, “my presumption is that every member of staff is doing the very best job they can do and as far as they know the information they are bringing is accurate.”
The whole point of having a governing board is to hear different points of view, Singlaub said, and these rules would not prevent that.
In other news, there has been high employee turnover recently at the TRPA, spokeswoman Julie Regan confirmed. Four people in the last two weeks have left for other jobs, she said, adding there is high turnover everywhere in Tahoe.
“We’ve been in the course of a culture change at the agency in the last year,” Regan said. “It’s been hard to attract and retain employees with lots of different factors at play.”
Proposed rules of conduct for TRPA staff and board members
1. To refrain from personal criticism or professional disparagement in public meetings or to the press.
2. To agree to address personnel issues in closed session.
3. To agree to trust intentions and information offered.
4. To seek to understand, and to be understood.
5. To listen actively and to refrain from hasty conclusions.
6. To refrain from gossip or hearsay.
7. To include the communications director in all media requests.
8. To acknowledge and recognize excellent staff and board contributions.
9. To use local government representatives as “bridges” between TRPA and county and city staff.
10. To address rumors immediately.