Pat Martel has been working in government for over three decades and has seen a looooooooooot of council meetings. Plus, she served as president of the ICMA and got to hear from other city managers about their council concerns. We talk about how to ensure civil meetings and, if necessary, whether she would take a bullet for her council.
Q: As ICMA president, did any city managers e-mail or call you and say, “I am really struggling with my council meetings. What advice can you give?”
A: I have been asked that question. We recognized in ICMA that these are issues our members are struggling with. We have had sessions on this very issue–how to have civil meetings. There’s a need for us to solicit input [from the public], but it’s not useful input if we allow that to digress into yelling and screaming. Having the mayor understand that their role is to facilitate the discussion, but when it gets out of hand, to put a stop to that…it’s not infringing on anyone’s free speech to cut off conversation if it becomes uncivil.
A: It’s also important for the city staff to clarify issues that the public may misunderstand. Or, worse yet, to try and identify the “fake news” on which people are basing their comments.
Q: Just for clarification, did any of the recommendations from that session include listening to the City Council Chronicles podcast?
A: [Laughs] No, but come to think of it, it should have! I have found listening very valuable.
Q: Thank you for saying that!
When did you accept the reality that as city manager, you are sometimes the face of unpopular proposals at council meetings?
A: I learned that a very, very long time ago. The position of city manager is a lightning rod for those who don’t agree with certain proposals. It’s not personal. Although council members and the public can make it personal. I think that oftentimes, council members who want to take me on on a particular issue see that the level of information I have exceeds what they have [and] they take it personally. My job is not to stand up to them. It’s to educate them about how things really work. I am really glad to meet with my council members before a meeting to go over things so I don’t have to present information to them in a meeting that will put them in a position where they look like they’re not very knowledgeable.
Q: In June 2014, the council was deciding whether to locate a cell tower in the city. After they voted in favor, a man rushed onto the dais and stood six inches from council members, jabbing his finger in their faces and yelling. How worried were you?
A: I was very worried. That’s one of the reasons why the police chief or one of his captains is always in attendance.
Q: If the chief was out of the room and an incident happened, would you take a bullet for your council?
A: I guess it would be my job to throw myself in front of that onslaught! While I don’t wear a badge, I have a sufficiently directive voice. I think I could probably calm someone down enough, so I would do it.
Follow City Manager Pat Martel on Twitter: @DalyCityManager