Interview #69: Daly City, CA City Manager Pat Martel (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

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.

Q: Mmm.

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!

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Daly City, CA city manager Pat Martel

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

Interview #34: Fort Lauderdale, FL City Manager Lee Feldman (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM and right here:

For two decades, Lee Feldman has been a city manager all around the Florida coast. Currently he is the big cheese in Fort Lauderdale, which has its share of commission meeting drama. We talked about Florida’s causal meeting attire and what council members may really be doing when they’re not looking at public commenters.

Q: You are the city manager of Fort Lauderdale. So, sir, my first question is: how many wet t-shirt contests have you judged?

A: None. Actually, Spring Break–as you may think of–has long gone from Fort Lauderdale. Back in the ’80s, the city fathers felt that Spring Break had gotten a little out of control. They wanted to see the beach evolve to something different, so Spring Break ultimately moved away.

Q: Can you think of anything you’ve done as Fort Lauderdale’s city manager that you think no other city manager in the country might have done?

A: Well, I’ll tell you one. In Florida when you have a quasi-judicial item, you have to be sworn in to give testimony. Our previous process gave you an orange sticker to indicate you were sworn in. I encouraged the clerk to replace that sticker with a sticker that says “I Love Fort Lauderdale.” I’m not sure anybody else in the country has done that.

Q: [Laughs] Yeah, I wouldn’t expect Reno to have stickers that say “I Love Fort Lauderdale!” I noticed in your city commission meetings that some public commenters wear t-shirts, shorts, and baseball caps. Do you find that a little too casual?

A: Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen a general relaxation of meetings. You’ve probably seen some council members that wear t-shirts and ball caps and shorts–

Q: Not yet!

A: You’ll probably find a few, especially in the retirement-oriented communities.

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Fort Lauderdale, FL City Manager Lee Feldman

Q: When you were in Palm Bay, there was a contentious city council meeting over the city’s contract with firefighters. Some of them stood up and said, you don’t care about us. Or, cut your pay. What do you want to say to them?

A: We value the work and effort of every employee. Everybody contributes differently. I remember around that time, these anonymous blogs started showing up and somebody blogged that I had gotten a huge raise, which was not the truth. I got a call from my mom–she was yelling at me about “how dare you take a raise when you’re telling others that they need to have changes?”

Q: Some people express concern in public comment that the Fort Lauderdale commissioners aren’t listening to people. I’ve got to say, from watching a few meetings, that seems largely correct.

A: I think our commissioners get a bad rap…we have electronic agendas now. All of our commissioners and myself use our iPads. As people are speaking and referencing things, we will be looking down at the iPad to see what they are talking about.

Q: How can public commenters get your attention and most effectively make their case?

A: The best way to make a case is to know the issue, be able to state the facts, and it’s okay to even get emotional. I’ve seen speakers tear up because the item means so much to them. But the most effective way is to remain civil.


Follow Lee Feldman on Twitter: @leefeldman