Community roundtable sets scene for council retreat

Mayor Al Pinheiro

Nearly six months ago, Mayor Al Pinheiro invited 21 community
members to discuss a range of city issues during a community
roundtable.
Although the merits of the September meeting have been debated,
its findings will be up for discussion this weekend, as Pinheiro
plans to give an overview of the notes from that meeting during the
city’s annual goal-setting session.
Nearly six months ago, Mayor Al Pinheiro invited 21 community members to discuss a range of city issues during a community roundtable.

Although the merits of the September meeting have been debated, its findings will be up for discussion this weekend, as Pinheiro plans to give an overview of the notes from that meeting during the city’s annual goal-setting session.

“I think what (the roundtable) did is it gave people an opportunity to voice their opinions,” Pinheiro said this week. “It gave us a gauge of what are some of the things that people are concerned about.”

Some community members at the time questioned whether the roundtable was politically motivated, as there was a lingering threat of a mayoral recall election, which never materialized.

However, City Administrator Tom Haglund said this week it was useful to have such a wide variety of community members offering input on what is happening in Gilroy.

“It’s not about hearing what you want to hear – it’s about hearing what they say,” Haglund said.

Many of the things people said had impacts on city policy considerations, he said.

For instance, City Recreation Manager Maria De Leon briefed the City Council on youth recreation programs after attendees at the roundtable discussed them as a possible way to decrease local crime, Haglund said. Since the roundtable, the city community services department has begun advertising their programs through social networking sites and is in the process of translating recreation guides into Spanish, he said.

Roundtable attendees also said they found the event to be relevant, although it was hard to gauge the immediate impacts of the meeting.

Kurt Michielssen, senior vice president of South Valley National Bank and board chairman of Gilroy’s Economic Development Corporation, said some issues discussed at the roundtable, such as police and fire services, have been addressed by the City Council since then.

Michielssen said he found the roundtable to be worthwhile, providing an opportunity to hear about the issues impacting Gilroy. Still, he said it was difficult to determine whether specific solutions came of the meeting.

“Were there measurables and have they been addressed?” Michielssen asked. “It’s hard to say.”

Ben Anderson, vice chair of the Gilroy’s planning commission and another roundtable attendee, said one of the challenges regarding the event was that so many issues were discussed and so many varying opinions and viewpoints were offered.

He felt a follow-up roundtable that would focus on just a few of the main topics from that meeting would be far more effective.

“Would I go to another one of those meetings? Yes,” Anderson said. “Would I expect more progress out of those meetings? Yes.”

On the other hand, Councilman Perry Woodward maintains that the roundtable was merely a public relations ploy on the part of the mayor. He said the event was “harmless” in content, but that it required extra time of city staff, which already was stretched thin.

Although many issues were discussed at the event, he said he could not think of any ideas that originated from those discussions.

“I can’t think of any direct effect that the roundtable has had, positive or negative,” he said.

At least one of the issues discussed at the roundtable – implementing a Shop Gilroy program – will be addressed at the City Council’s goal-setting session Friday and Saturday, Pinheiro said. However, it is unclear where this idea originated or if it was discussed on a city level prior to the roundtable.

This weekend’s agenda also includes discussions of inward-looking matters, such as the council’s image and campaign finance reform, as well as items related to city projects, such as city library construction and sidewalk repairs. Regional projects such as California High-Speed Rail and South County Regional Wastewater Authority expansion projects also will be addressed.

All of those discussions will be colored by the city’s current budget squeeze, brought on by a struggling economy, city representatives said.

“The major issue on everyone’s mind is how do we keep financially sound, how do we poise ourselves for the future, how do we position ourselves right,” Pinheiro said.

Anderson said he would love to hear budget challenges addressed at a future roundtable as well. Specifically, he wondered how the city could raise services to the level offered before it made drastic financial cutbacks, given the city’s financial challenges and staff cuts.

“I would stand in line to the next mayor’s roundtable to hear the answer to that question,” Anderson said.

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