Published : Monday, December 12, 2016 | 6:48 AM
Tonight, as the last agenda item on the last scheduled City Council agenda of the year, City Attorney Michele Bagneris is to deliver a report described, with almost primer-like simplicity, as a “Briefing on the City Council/City Manager Form of Government.”
But neither the backstory as to why the item is on the agenda nor the implications for the future of policymaking in Pasadena are simple, City Hall observers say.
The briefing likely comes in response to a request by Public Safety Committee Chair Councilmember John Kennedy, and that comes because Kennedy apparently wants the full Council to explore how the Council can override, in effect, and change, a specific policy the City Manager and one of the City’s departmental heads has implemented.
Kennedy has said he is less than pleased with the rollout of the Pasadena Police Department’s Body Worn Camera policy by Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez and City Manager Steve Mermell.
Although Pasadena’s Police Chief is granted policy-making authority under the City’s municipal code, the City Charter at the same time empowers the Council “to instruct the City Manager in all matters of policy, and any action, determination or omission of the City Manager shall be subject to review by the City Council.”
In practice, the Pasadena City Council does not routinely conduct formal reviews of specific policies already approved by the City Manager and vote on whether to let them stand or be amended.
Kennedy acknowledged this earlier in December when he told Pasadena Now that “it is not customary for the City Council to engage in rulemaking for the police department.”
“However,” Kennedy said, “as it relates to policies that have national and local implications, the City Council, within the confines of the charter, certainly could instruct the City Manager, as the chief administrative officer of the City, to modify, change or amend a policy.”
According to the City Charter — which takes precedence over the Municipal Code — Councilmembers, with a 5-0 vote apparently can instruct the City Manager to change policies he previously authorized.
City Attorney Michelle Bagneris is scheduled to report on, and presumably take questions on, the City’s Council-Manager form of government at tonight’s meeting.
In a brochure distributed by the City Attorney’s office, a “Council-Manager” government, such as Pasadena’s, is described as one which “combines the strong political leadership of elected officials with the strong managerial experience of an appointed manager or administrator. Since its establishment, the council-manager form of government has become the most popular form of local government in the United States.”
Currently, 3,625 cities and 529 counties in the United States operate under this form, governing more than 75.5 million citizens.
In a Council-Manager government, the manager typically prepares a budget for the Council’s consideration; recruits, hires, terminates, and supervises government staff, and serves as the council’s chief advisor.
The City Council is the legislative body of the city of Pasadena, and its elected members are the community’s decision makers. The Council approves the budget provided by the City Manager and determines the tax rate. The Council also concentrates on a community’s goals, major projects, and long-term considerations like community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning.
Appointed managers also serve “at the pleasure of the governing body,” and can also be fired by a majority of the Council, according to the City Attorney handout.
The question of the Council overriding department policy was actually first broached in March as the City was in the process of acquiring its new body-worn cameras.
City Attorney Bagneris issued a memo then, detailing the roles of the City Council and the police chief in creating protocol and policy for the cameras.
But, wrote Bagneris, “Sections 411 and 604 (J) of the charter permits the City Council to “inquire” into administrative matters under the City manager and also to “instruct” the city manager in all matters of policy. Bagneris added that actions by the city manager “shall be subject to review by the city council, but no such action…shall be overruled or modified by a vote of less than five members thereof.”
Bagneris continued to explain, also, that the City Manager has “certain powers and duties, such as ‘the responsibility to exercise supervision and control over all departments, divisions, and offices of the city.” In addition, she wrote, “The city council may not attempt to influence or direct any subordinates of the city manager.”
Writing before the Police Department rolled out its body camera policy November 7, Bagneris also said, “We believe the approach that best reconciles the powers and duties of the city council, the city manager and the police, is for the city council to have an advisory role prior to the implementation of a policy where it provides guidance regarding the content and direction of the policy.”