• GUEST OPINION

      A detailed photo of architecture

      Pasadena City Hall (Photo – Robert B. Moffatt)

      When I first ran for public office 33 years ago, my new colleagues quietly introduced me to what they called “The Pasadena Way.”

      By William M. Paparian

      The Pasadena City Council was then still known as the Board of Directors, as it had been since the founding of our City. Hours before they held their public meetings, City Directors would lunch at the University Club, go over the agenda and settle everything by dessert. Then they would reconvene two blocks away at City Hall to go through the motions.

      By the time I joined the Board of Directors in 1987, the Pasadena Way had evolved into a more sophisticated form.

      The luncheons gave way to private meetings after staff reports, and agenda packets were dropped off to Directors’ homes the Friday evening before a public meeting early the following week.

      Because the Board of Directors consisted of seven members, these meetings involved only three Directors so as not to trigger the Brown Act’s public notice requirements. The three would forge a consensus on each item, and one of them would call to find a fourth vote for a majority, thus settling the matter before the public had a clue.

      All that changed after I sued my fellow Directors for violating the Brown Act. The Board scrapped its standing conspiracy and began holding robust and honest discussions at meetings that it had already pushed back to the evening, to better accommodate public attendance.

      The “Pasadena Way” was rightfully relegated to the dustbin of local patrician history. Or so we thought.

      Using the coronavirus emergency to suspend the rules, City Hall leadership has reverted to those old corporate mentality ways, seizing control of the public agenda and shutting out our City’s elected representatives from even routine business.

      Since the City Council ratified the Health Department’s Emergency Declaration on March 9, four City Council meetings and 12 City Council committee meetings (where much of the basic work gets done, routine or otherwise) have been cancelled.

      Meanwhile, like the bad old days, the public meetings that have been convened are once again taking place in the afternoons when most residents are working, even if from home.

      City residents are not able to watch or comment in real time.

      These meetings also run off agendas that, as is custom, are set by the Mayor but, as is convenient, are being curated to avoid consideration of meaningful emergency measures that might make City Hall look bad or raise sharp questions about the Health Department’s handling of the crisis.

      Instead, while hunkered down inside the bunker that City Hall that has become, closed-door meetings are held where decisions are being made in private.

      Meanwhile otherwise worthy solutions are being ignored that could help those being most harmed by the virus or, like many states and cities, begin consideration on how to reopen Pasadena as things become safe.

      The result has been a grave disservice if not an outright danger – to residents.

      While calls are ignored for a thoughtful, long-term discussion about how many health inspectors the City will need to reopen local businesses, City Hall was quick to schedule a committee vote on two controversial cannabis license applications—until public criticism and a letter of protest by another bidder forced it to pull the item.

      While a vote on $140,000 for public artwork was scheduled and later withdrawn from the agenda, City Council members were not informed that the California National Guard had been deployed to convalescent centers in Pasadena.

      While asking everyone to remain calm and trust City Hall to deal with the crisis, the Assistant City Manager lamely complains that he lacks the technological know-how to arrange teleconferencing for City Council meetings.

      Worse of all, while City Hall has shut down public debate and legitimate questions about the Health Department’s handling of the crisis, Pasadena has now outpaced all of Orange County in COVID-19-related death, even though Orange County has 22 times the population.

      Using this emergency as an excuse to reinstate the Pasadena Way is not only a disingenuous affront to transparency and democracy in general, it is literally killing us.

      Reinstating the Pasadena Way is putting us in greater danger and delaying recovery for our City, even as harder hit cities like New York are beginning to plan for the post-COVID-19 future. It is also preventing the City Council from conducting its regular business, such as setting the 2020-2021 City budget.

      We have worked too hard and benefited too much from opening up our City government to lose these gains and rights, even if purportedly briefly during an emergency. For City Hall to use that emergency as a power grab is inexcusable and reckless.

      Attorney William M. Paparian is a former Mayor of Pasadena and Councilmember for District 4.


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