City council, Dec. 17, 2012

After the swearing in ceremony on Dec. 10, the new city council got to work in the Dec. 17 meeting by nominating and voting for new the mayor and vice mayor (in Albany, the mayor and vice mayor are elected by the council and serve for one year).

Joanne Wile graciously nominated Peggy Thomsen for mayor, and Wile was nominated for vice mayor. The council approved both unanimously. Many thanks to Wile for taking the lead. Thomsen and Wile have been working together on the Gill Tract issue, and all bets are they will continue to work together well as mayor and vice mayor.

Having Thomsen serve as mayor acknowledges her impressive vote totals in the election (see entry below). And besides, as another former mayor pointed out to me, she is good at being mayor and running meetings, so this will be an opportunity to learn how it’s done.


During the time allotted for comments on items not on the agenda, Albany resident Brian Parsley urged the council to review the rules for funding council health care benefits, an issue that was raised during the campaign.

City staffers are eligible for a Kaiser Permanente plan at no cost to them. If they elect to subscribe to another more expensive health plan, they must pay the difference out of pocket. Historically, council members could take part in the city’s health plan at the same cost as employees. A few years ago, the council voted to give itself free health care benefits–even if the chosen plans were more expensive than the city’s Kaiser plan.

This change rankled many Albany voters, and became a campaign issue. During the campaign, I stated that the council’s benefits should be realigned to be consistent with those of the staff. The council will probably take up this issue sometime in the next several months.


City manager Beth Pollard reminded the council that the city last revised its general plan in 1990. This is a long-term planning document that provides direction for several years. We will need to begin revising the general plan in the next few years. In addition, Pollard suggested that council develop a strategic plan to cover the next 2-5 years.

We also heard from Jeff Bond about the report from our RF consultant on potential locations for cell base stations. Report due soon.


The main item for the evening was restructuring the city’s various committees. For a city of its size, Albany has high number of committees, and the council discussed a resolution to trim the size and number of them. As a council member, I believe there are too many committees stuck in limbo without a strong policy-making role.

In particular, the council discussed eliminating the Social and Economic Justice Commission (SEJC). We heard from Albany residents that if a committee is not staffed, it can run afoul of the Brown Act’s complicated open meeting rules (currently SEJC is not staffed). Albany resident Caryl O’Keefe suggested that very wide scope of the committee was more suited to separate task forces (like the current homelessness task force). However, many of the current SEJC members spoke in favor of keeping the committee.

I was in favor of shutting down the committee, but the council voted to phase it out over the next year. I felt a one-year extension was too long and suggested (unsuccessfully) a time of six months. I voted against the resolution because I felt that it left SEJC in limbo for too long. Damin Esper of the CCTimes/Albany Journal covered the issue here.

During the general council comments at the end of the meeting, I made a few comments:

1) I noted that the three “complete streets” meetings provided a quick and effective way to involve Albany residents in planning the future of the Buchanan and San Pablo Ave. corridors. Many thanks to all the folks who participated.

2) I mentioned I did head down to the waterfront at around 11 a.m. on Dec. 13, the date and time of the King tide, the highest tide of the year. Sure enough, the water was lapping over the asphalt at the lowest point of the race track parking lot. Sea level rise is here.

3) On Jan. 16-18, Peter Maass and I, the two new council members, will head up to Sacramento for a three-day training session. I am hoping we can get some suggestions on how to use social media to keep in touch with voters in a way that respects the Brown Act’s rules.

When the Brown act was envisioned, the internet, blogs, Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, and the tensions between the act and the voter’s desire for information are difficult to negotiate. I’m hoping to hear some suggestions so that this blog, among other ways to reach to voters, can continue.