The Turlock City Council held a Special Meeting on November 29, 2010 over dinner provided by Turlock City Manager Roy Wasden and Turlock City Attorney Phaedra Norton at the Turlock Chamber of Commerce. “New Council Orientation” was stated at the agenda item but rather appeared as a team building session focusing more on communication, personality issues, and what turned out to be a heavily discussed issue, the City of Turlock Elected Officials Code of Conduct.
Mayor John Lazar’s opening statement included that he admitted "this was kind of unconventional in that we’ve actually called a meeting while the new council members have not been sworn in yet. But I thought it was important to try to hit the ground running and embrace our new members because I think we have a lot to do in terms of moving our Council forward and accomplishing good things for our city."
Turlock Mayor Lazar, Turlock Council Members Amy Bublak, Mary Jackson, and Council Elects Bill DeHart and Forrest White were in attendance. Vice Mayor Kurt Spycher and Council Member Ted Howze were not notified of the Special Meeting and found out about the meeting just hours before it took place.
Lazar went on to say “What’s really important to me is improving our interpersonal skills, that’s what I hope to achieve. I think we can overcome some of bad press that our Council has gotten over the past few years because we weren’t communicating right and I think there might have been some misunderstandings.”
“I also wanted to welcome the press, they are an important factor in our mix in our community,” said Lazar. “Even though we didn’t know they were going to show up today, we welcome them and hope that we have a good relationship with them in the years ahead.”
Nobody from the public attended the meeting that was not noticed on the City of Turlock website or in any media except for TurlockCityNews.com the morning it came to light. The Turlock Journal reporter and Councilwoman Mary Jackson even showed up the wrong location, City Hall, where Council meetings usually take place. The only city staff in attendance were the acting Turlock City Clerk, City Manager, and City Attorney.
“I chose this site because I wanted it to be more social and less formal,” explained Lazar.
“I think that there is a real need to include as many as we possibly can,” said Council Elect Bill DeHart. “Is our energy focused on the community as a whole instead of personal agendas.”
Mary Jakosa, Turlock Chamber of Commerce Chair and Foster Farms Human Resource Manager, facilitated the meeting. Jakosa began by stating simple “norms” or rules that should be agreed upon and said that civility is being mentioned more and more so that’s how the meeting should be conducted.
Council Elect DeHart added a rule he’d like to see incorporated and that is that it is fine to complain, but the complaint should be followed up with a solution.
Jakosa said “The purpose here is to gain a full understanding of the role of the Mayor and the roles of the City Council Members, what’s best for the City of Turlock, and to drive toward the legacy you want to leave at the end of your term.”
Mayor Lazar wanted the role of the City Manager and City Attorney included in the discussion. Jakosa said that will come later.
Jakosa stated that John Lazar is the Mayor of Turlock, he’s the spokesperson and elected leader of this town. Jakosa said that he doesn’t think we’ve always honored that.
When Mayor John was asked what he thought his role included he said “I’m the chair of the policy board but I’m also the figure head of the city.”
“Of importance to me and one thing I’d like to talk about later on is the role of the vice mayor because it is very important to share some of my responsibility, not only with the Vice Mayor, but the other Council Members,” said Lazar. “I wasn’t really given that opportunity too much the last four years because there was not a willingness to take part in those kinds of positions.”
Council Elect Forrest White asked if the person who speaks for the city should be the City Manager.
“This Council, I don’t know how else to say it, but there was a control issue in terms of release of information and I would very much like to suggest that we have an information officer for the Council, whether that’s the Manager, Attorney, or different staff person,” said Lazar. “I’m happy to be that person but the previous Council wasn’t too happy with me for doing that.”
“I’d like to speak for the Council if I can, I’ve learned to speak for myself, but I’m tired of making a statement and the next day getting browbeaten by a Council Member because I didn’t have the authority to say it,” said Lazar.
“Please rope me in if I’m going off too far but this is kind of a welcome exercise for me, I’ve been waiting for this for four years.”
Jakosa stated that nobody gets a long with anybody all of the time, and that there will be disagreement but it’s how people deal with that, with civility.
Mayor Lazar brought up that there is a Code of Conduct, a document that he worked on as a subcommittee member with former Councilwoman Beverly Hatcher and former City Attorney Dick Burton in the 90’s.
“It’s my favorite,” proclaimed Councilwoman Mary Jackson.
Jakosa asked the Council Members about the code of conduct and Elect White asked even if there is a code of conduct. Elects White and DeHart had not received a copy yet.
“The code of conduct is a very clear and concise document and if everyone just followed it, the world in Turlock would be a much better place,” said Councilwoman Jackson. “It’s in my binder; I’ve threatened to use it before.”
Jakosa interjected by clarifying that “We can look at it one of two ways, we can look at this as these are tools or these are clubs.
Jackson clarified “It’s a tool.”
Councilwoman Jackson stated that the Code of Conduct is basically about respect, City Attorney Norton echoed that with a brief summarization including guidelines on how to interact with each other and everyone else.
“Too frequently, recently it’s been used as a sword instead of a tool,” Lazar stated.
“It’s been misused,” add Jackson.
“It’s been used to play gotcha over the past few years and we have to stop playing gotcha,” Lazar said.
Jakosa asked about what the guidelines are for holding Council Members accountable and Mayor Lazar stated that there is a complaint method.
Council Elect White continued his concern with who speaks and who doesn’t, and without really seeing the document still believes that the City Manager needs to be the one to deal with public communication as the Mayoral role is more ceremonial while the Manager gets paid to run the City. White often referenced his experience as the San Joaquin County Fair CEO and dealings with a Board.
“The election that Amy and I were elected to was a much uglier method of campaign and thankfully this one was very much civil,” Jackson. “And it was discussed about civility, and that was a good thing because we went back to having civil elections.”
“I talked about this with a former Council Member, if you’ve heard that I said something about you, then I would appreciate if you came to me and ask you if I said that because I’m going to tell the truth,” said Jackson.
“In most cases, people go ‘oh yeah, hold me accountable,’ until you do hold them accountable and then they are all transformed out of it.” Jakosa.
“This group has some choices to make, you have choices to make on how you’re going to conduct business moving forward,” said Jakosa. “I don’t mean that as a slam… any references to the past is just wasting time.”
Jakosa received the three current sitting Council Members verbal confirmation that they’re alright with the Code of Conduct and will follow it. The two newly elected Councilmen will view the document soon once provided by City Staff.
Bill DeHart had to leave due to a family emergency, cutting the meeting short.
“For Forrest and Bill’s edification, and the public’s as well, the reason I am quiet and reserved is because of pending litigation from one of the Council Members,” stated Amy in her closing remarks. “I’m not trying to create havoc, I just want you to understand why I’m not talking right now, I don’t want to put myself in a position where what I say is utilized against me.”
Council Elect White said “I’ll speak for Bill and myself both, I think we look at it as everything started the day the election was final. Whatever happened before happened before and both of us feel like we’ll be moving forward.”
A continuance of the meeting is planned for January 31, 2011 at City Hall. Future discussion is to include behavioral profiling from a computer test, goal setting, and prioritizing what some may feel will be important projects.
Another article is being written regarding the how the Special Meeting was ordered and held. Information was sought from City Manager Roy Wasden on the morning of November 29, 2010 but TurlockCityNews.com has not received any information answering questions such as who or how the meeting was called to order, when was it publically noticed and where, why two current Council Members were not notified despite the fact their names appeared on the top of the agenda, and if there was any City costs associated with the Special Meeting.