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Guest Opinion | Paul Little: How Lucky Are We?

Published on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 | 3:15 pm

The recent municipal election created angst among various constituent groups in Pasadena. There were those fretting the City Council would tilt even more progressive than it is now. Others worried Pasadena wasn’t attentive enough to the needs of residents, especially our economically impacted residents.

“Oh no, what if —————– (you can fill in the blank) is elected (or re-elected)? What will happen to the Pasadena we love?” 


Unless they create chaos among the City Council (and embarrass us all) or anxiety within City of Pasadena staff (and alienate those we need to fulfill important tasks), the City Council and Mayor really aren’t going to impact our daily lives as residents.

Elected officials do not run the City of Pasadena — not on a day-to-day basis. Pasadena’s electeds do have important responsibilities: approving budgets, setting policy, imposing fees and taxes, approving regulations, representing us to the wider world (and more).

The Mayor and City Council members only choose three key employees: the City Manager, City Attorney and City Clerk. Those three are responsible, maybe not directly, for hiring everyone else. (Including staff to support implementation of Measure H, since that board chose to become a department of the City, with a director hired by, and responsible to, the City Manager.)

The City of Pasadena is run by professional staff, with direction, guidance and oversight by the City Council who are elected to represent constituents. (There is also oversight and direction from citizen commissions appointed by the City Council, again to represent our interests.)

People are (we expect and it is mostly true) hired into City of Pasadena jobs based on competence, ability and other attributes that make them a good fit to serve Pasadena. The current system and practices in Pasadena precludes political appointments, nepotism, cronyism in favor or a system of hiring and vetting processes designed to attract and hire the best for the job. (It has been decades since political patronage and cronyism played a role in hiring or contracting in Pasadena.)

Professional staff ensures the water runs, is drinkable (and the right color); that electricity is there to power the vacuum cleaner; that police come when we call. Professionals ensure that fire and paramedic services are available quickly, our parks are maintained, our streets are swept and the trash is picked up.

More importantly, City of Pasadena staff are there to interpret rules and regulations (and how they are applied). They are there to ensure compliance with our statutes and ordinances, and most of the people who work for the City of Pasadena want to do a good job. And overwhelmingly they are excellent! They want to provide good service and be part of maintaining an excellent city for residents, visitors and businesses.

Pasadena has attracted a truly first-rate caliber of employee. Departmental leadership at the City is gifted, devoted, experienced and capable.  Everyone in senior leadership in Pasadena is among the best at what they do — ANYWHERE. That is why so many move on to leadership positions in much larger cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, even New York (and others).

Pasadena department heads and our city managers have been very good at choosing key staff members. (As has the City Council, for that matter.)

Even lower-level executive staff are regularly hired to run departments in smaller cities in our area and even in other states. A police lieutenant from Pasadena was chosen to run the police department at a small city in Arizona. Assistant city managers from Pasadena regularly populate city manager positions elsewhere. Development and planning leaders in neighboring cities often come from Pasadena.

I once ran into a former Pasadena Planning Department staff member in a bar in a great hotel in Chicago (a bit of a surreal moment). At that time, he led the historic preservation program there as a Deputy Commissioner and now is a leading the National Park Services preservation efforts. 

It is not that we are a training ground for talent, it is that gifted, inspired and capable people want to work in Pasadena.

An example:

Pasadena hired Barney Melekian to be Chief of Police in 1996. He vowed there would be “No more dead kids” in Pasadena.

From a high of 27 killings in 1993 (the year three innocent young teens were gunned down by gang members on Halloween), homicides in Pasadena dropped to four in 2001. (In 2022, there were seven.) This was the result of focus, dedication, insight and inspired (and inspiring) leadership with some assistance from an economic upturn and increase in job opportunities locally. (FYI-Chief Melekian went on to run the Community Oriented Policing Services office in the Obama administration.)

So, yes, we are lucky here in Pasadena. Lucky to live, work or visit this wonderful small city. And very lucky we have so many talented City staff people at all levels working to keep it that way (and make Pasadena even better).


(FYI, if you haven’t already, download the Pasadena Citizen Service mobile app. It allows you to contact city staff about almost any issue immediately and get a response to your concern within days.)


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