San Mateo - Other Departments
The City of San Mateo citizens service academy spent an evening (14 May 1997 ) with a few other departments at City Hall: Personnel, Volunteers, City Attorney, and Finance.. These are some of my notes and pictures...
The evening started off with a presentation about the Personnel Department by one of the "Personnel Analysts" Paul Corey. There's not much about the personnel department that's really all that interesting... We saw lots of numbers and graphs, but they weren't ready for questions about their charts -- e.g. is that a chart showing the full time positions actually filled or positions available? Bar charts and pie charts are meaningless if you can't substantiate the methods behind the numbers... At least one set of numbers was clear: The city currently has 500 merit (full time) employees and (less clear because the number is seasonal and always in flux) between 100 and 300 part time employees.
The City has had citizen volunteers for many years, but now we're doing so in a much more organized manner thanks in part to a grant from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in 1996. Henry Use, the City's new volunteer coordinator, condensed an hour talk down to 20 minutes. He described many ways that volunteers can help the city.
The City now has a database (it might or might not be on a computer, but...) where each department can list volunteer openings and citizens can submit their interests. Henry takes each volunteer application and tries to match it to an opening. Don't worry... no volunteer is taking a job away from an employee...
The openings cover a wide range of experiences and volunteer duties such as (there are dozens more):
With this new program, volunteers can now be registered with the city which means that they can now be covered by Worker's Compensation etc.
The next presentation was by Roy Abrams, the City Attorney. He took a very different approach by first telling us about himself and his career. No charts. No overheads. Just a warm and friendly discussion. The City had the first full time City Attorney in 1970. Roy worked as an assistant in 1973 before leaving and eventually coming back as the City Attorney in 1984.
Although his office was slotted to have four attorneys, he's been running it with just 2 for a few years supplanting as needed by contracting with an outside firm. He did this primarily as a cost cutting move when it was needed in the early 1990's, but is now ready to hire a third attorney.
He gave a quick introduction to laws such as the Brown Act (the Public Meeting Act) and the Political Reform Act of 1974 (covering conflicts of interest by City officials, and campaign financing).
A most interesting portion of his presentation was on the City's claim statistics and examples of some of the claims people have brought against the city. One claim that stands out was a civil rights claim where the lawsuit claimed that the Police falsely accused the plaintiff of a crime and that the criminal accusation was dismissed by the court. Turns out that the person making the claim was a repeat offender and that he was arrested on four counts. He was found guilty of three of the counts, and one count was dismissed. It was this one dismissed count on which the lawsuit was based. The court threw out this suit. Amazing what people will try... and this was just one of a few cases he discussed.
Of the numbers Mr. Abrams did present we were quite happy to hear that San Mateo has a dramatically low number of claims and a very low payout against claims.
John de Russy is the City's Finance Director. Yep, this is the department that does all of the accounting, payrolls, and budgeting. The current years' budget is $86.4 million with 49% allocated to general fund expenditures (as opposed to things like capital improvements or redevelopment agency funding). 52% of the general fund money comes from sales and property taxes. Despite how much we pay in property or sales taxes not all of that goes to the city --- 14% of our property taxes, and 12% of sales taxes go to the City.
It was clear throughout his presentation that financially he's very conservative... perhaps even too much so. His department's projections for the last three years have been too conservative -- i.e. we've done much better than expected with expenditures running well below revenues. Next year's budget will be $115.11 million and is a balanced budget without raising taxes... Although some of us might think we're not getting as many city services as we either used to or should be getting.
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