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Leadership Pleasanton at the crossroads

Mayor Brown, other city electeds propose overhaul; chamber CEO defends program against 'elitism' claims

Mayor Karla Brown told the Weekly that city staff can run the Leadership Pleasanton program "better for free." (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

Several Pleasanton City Council members have proposed overhauling the long-running Leadership Pleasanton program by dissolving a partnership between the city and the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, which has helped organize and promote the program for 32 years, and having the city directly manage it instead, among other potential changes.

The Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and city have partnered on the Leadership Pleasanton program for 32 years. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

Mayor Karla Brown told the Weekly on Monday that she is "not anti-chamber at all" but said, "I think the city government can do a city-focused (program), and we can do it better for free."

"I want it to be available for everyone to learn about their own government," Brown said. "I think it should be free, run by the city and available to any residents, whether they can afford it or not."

Each year, 30 to 32 participants from local businesses, government, professional and social service organizations, and the Pleasanton community at-large, are selected to participate in the leadership development program.

The program's goals "are very simple" and about "really getting people more engaged in our community," chamber President/CEO Steve Van Dorn said in a recent interview.

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"It's really to educate community members who want to learn more about how the city operates ... so they'll want to get more involved with being a part of leading the city in the future, whether that's being on a commission or committee, or running for public office," Van Dorn said.

Brown said participation can be more difficult for some residents, though, because the annual program's all-day sessions are held on a weekday during daytime hours, once a month from September through May.

"They're during the day when most people are at work," Brown said, and called the program's $950 participant fee "prohibitive to most people."

Brown also said it doesn't make sense to pay the chamber $10,000 every year -- per the city's most recent contract with them -- when "a third of the group that helps run this program are city employees."

"This is a program that should be available at no charge, and if the chamber wants to do it at no charge and they're willing to do it in the evening, I'd sure like to talk to them," Brown said. "But I don't think the city should pay $10,000 to them to do it."

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According to Van Dorn, the chamber's $10,000 annual payment from the city pays for four to five city employees to attend the program every year and "partial payment for chamber staff time, meals, rental fees and transportation."

Though the city manager is authorized to sign contracts up to $10,000 on their own, Brown said, "This kind of contract should be approved by the City Council."

Vice Mayor Julie Testa "often thought I would like to take Leadership Pleasanton, but I had the sense it was cost-prohibitive and elitist," particularly when compared to city-run programs that are free and held on weeknights, such as Citizen Police Academy, she said.

"From community discussions, I did not think I would be accepted and I could not justify the cost," Testa said. "I would like to make the program open, accessible and cost-free to any interested community member. Using the model of the Citizen Police Academy, a city-run program could do that."

Between nine to 15 scholarships which cover half of the $950 program fee are issued by the chamber each year, with funding coming from outside donations including individuals, past graduating classes and businesses. Van Dorn said each program class fundraises for a needy cause and some have chosen to support future scholarships, with money going to the Pleasanton Chamber Community Foundation.

Testa said, "I would never feel it was appropriate for me to apply (for a scholarship). While I think most community members would be able to afford it, perhaps, that does not justify the expense. It isn't a program that should be exclusive, elitist or cost-prohibitive."

The most recent contract between the city and chamber -- which expired in June 2020 and hasn't been renewed since -- called for the chamber to "solicit attendee participation in the program," but Testa said past contracts that allowed the chamber to select participants have also left her with the impression that the program was not accessible for many people.

"Perhaps it's been more open in recent years, but my 30-year history in community discussions about it, was that it was very elitist, hand-selected by people whom the Chamber courts," Testa said. "I wasn't one of the community members that the chamber courted and, therefore, I never applied."

Some city leaders want staff to completely run the annual Leadership Pleasanton program, absorbing responsibilities currently assumed by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

Based on conversations with peers in other cities, Testa said, "This has not been the norm for the chamber to take the role they've taken in our community, and it's something that should be re-evaluated, perhaps."

Testa added, "When they're doing Leadership Pleasanton, they're grooming their future candidates at taxpayer expense. They have such a defined political position that I question whether it is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."

Van Dorn pushed back on the idea that the chamber is "indoctrinating graduates to the chamber policies -- that our people are the ones getting elected," he paraphrased.

"There's only been three council members that have been elected that went through the program before they were elected," Van Dorn said, including former council members Arne Olson and Cindy McGovern and current Councilmember Valerie Arkin.

Housing Commissioner Kate Duggan, Human Services Commissioner Susan Hayes and City Manager Nelson Fialho are also program alumni.

As a participant in the 2014-15 Leadership Pleasanton program during her school board tenure, Arkin told the Weekly "there were many valuable aspects of the program." Now Arkin said she's "interested in learning more about how the city spends dollars on this program and in what capacity."

"Do they simply spend funds to send employees as participants or do they help fund the program in other ways?" Arkin said. "It's concerning if there are additional funds, outside of paying for employees to attend, and that is what I'd like to have more information on."

Arkin also agreed with Brown that "the council should be giving policy direction on the use of such funds," adding, "perhaps there should be consideration given to having the city be more involved in such a program."

If Leadership Pleasanton is taken over by the city, Van Dorn said, "The concern that we would have would be that it would be city-focused, city-centric, and not more open with different viewpoints on different sessions that we have."

Van Dorn continued, "Our No. 1 concern would be perhaps that that would be lost, if the program were to become a city program. We think we have a great diversity of folks that are actually presenting at each different session that we have. We just think it would be missing something, if that were the case."

From a logistical perspective, Van Dorn said it would take "a lot of staff time" for the city to put together their own program, "and when you look at what they have on their plate, it doesn't make sense to recreate a program that's already working."

Councilmember Kathy Narum told the Weekly, "My understanding is staff just don't have the resources to put a program like this together, as it is today."

City staff do have involvement in coordinating the program but the planning, transportation logistics and other tasks normally handled by the chamber would add on too much extra work for them, Narum said. Van Dorn also said the chamber spends lots of time promoting Leadership Pleasanton, which is featured on their website.

"The application form is on our website, we manage the payments, we're promoting it all the time, most promotion by and large is our doing," Van Dorn said. "The city certainly helps but most of it is what we do."

Van Dorn added, "The (chamber) staff time that's used to make the program be successful is probably far more than we get compensated from."

Brown and Testa both said the city could operate a community program similar to those run by Dublin or Livermore city staffers, but Van Dorn countered that Leadership Pleasanton is unique and "very, very different."

"Dublin's program is all specifically focused on city government. It doesn't talk about education and the other areas we focus on in our program," Van Dorn said. "Theirs is roughly 24, 30 hours total ... and ours is around 72 hours long. It's a much more robust program, and I think it's not fair to compare the programs when it's really apples to oranges."

Before making any changes to Leadership Pleasanton, Narum said the four council members -- including herself -- that have not participated in the program, "need to observe some sessions."

"We're talking about a program that four of us (council members) have never done, and that's a reason why I have some discomfort," Narum said. "People that think this needs to be overhauled, I've tried to figure out why."

Narum added that having Leadership Pleasanton run solely by the city "isn't something that's going to make the community better versus an all-abilities playground, or having a community farm on the Bernal property for master gardeners, or making sure we're in compliance with these state (housing) mandates so we don't get sued or fined."

The city's support for the Leadership Pleasanton program will be evaluated within the second year of the council's current two-year work plan, where it is listed as a "B" priority. According to deputy city manager Pamela Ott, the council "will be reviewing the city’s participation in the program when this is scheduled for consideration."

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Leadership Pleasanton at the crossroads

Mayor Brown, other city electeds propose overhaul; chamber CEO defends program against 'elitism' claims

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Aug 10, 2021, 9:58 pm

Several Pleasanton City Council members have proposed overhauling the long-running Leadership Pleasanton program by dissolving a partnership between the city and the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, which has helped organize and promote the program for 32 years, and having the city directly manage it instead, among other potential changes.

Mayor Karla Brown told the Weekly on Monday that she is "not anti-chamber at all" but said, "I think the city government can do a city-focused (program), and we can do it better for free."

"I want it to be available for everyone to learn about their own government," Brown said. "I think it should be free, run by the city and available to any residents, whether they can afford it or not."

Each year, 30 to 32 participants from local businesses, government, professional and social service organizations, and the Pleasanton community at-large, are selected to participate in the leadership development program.

The program's goals "are very simple" and about "really getting people more engaged in our community," chamber President/CEO Steve Van Dorn said in a recent interview.

"It's really to educate community members who want to learn more about how the city operates ... so they'll want to get more involved with being a part of leading the city in the future, whether that's being on a commission or committee, or running for public office," Van Dorn said.

Brown said participation can be more difficult for some residents, though, because the annual program's all-day sessions are held on a weekday during daytime hours, once a month from September through May.

"They're during the day when most people are at work," Brown said, and called the program's $950 participant fee "prohibitive to most people."

Brown also said it doesn't make sense to pay the chamber $10,000 every year -- per the city's most recent contract with them -- when "a third of the group that helps run this program are city employees."

"This is a program that should be available at no charge, and if the chamber wants to do it at no charge and they're willing to do it in the evening, I'd sure like to talk to them," Brown said. "But I don't think the city should pay $10,000 to them to do it."

According to Van Dorn, the chamber's $10,000 annual payment from the city pays for four to five city employees to attend the program every year and "partial payment for chamber staff time, meals, rental fees and transportation."

Though the city manager is authorized to sign contracts up to $10,000 on their own, Brown said, "This kind of contract should be approved by the City Council."

Vice Mayor Julie Testa "often thought I would like to take Leadership Pleasanton, but I had the sense it was cost-prohibitive and elitist," particularly when compared to city-run programs that are free and held on weeknights, such as Citizen Police Academy, she said.

"From community discussions, I did not think I would be accepted and I could not justify the cost," Testa said. "I would like to make the program open, accessible and cost-free to any interested community member. Using the model of the Citizen Police Academy, a city-run program could do that."

Between nine to 15 scholarships which cover half of the $950 program fee are issued by the chamber each year, with funding coming from outside donations including individuals, past graduating classes and businesses. Van Dorn said each program class fundraises for a needy cause and some have chosen to support future scholarships, with money going to the Pleasanton Chamber Community Foundation.

Testa said, "I would never feel it was appropriate for me to apply (for a scholarship). While I think most community members would be able to afford it, perhaps, that does not justify the expense. It isn't a program that should be exclusive, elitist or cost-prohibitive."

The most recent contract between the city and chamber -- which expired in June 2020 and hasn't been renewed since -- called for the chamber to "solicit attendee participation in the program," but Testa said past contracts that allowed the chamber to select participants have also left her with the impression that the program was not accessible for many people.

"Perhaps it's been more open in recent years, but my 30-year history in community discussions about it, was that it was very elitist, hand-selected by people whom the Chamber courts," Testa said. "I wasn't one of the community members that the chamber courted and, therefore, I never applied."

Based on conversations with peers in other cities, Testa said, "This has not been the norm for the chamber to take the role they've taken in our community, and it's something that should be re-evaluated, perhaps."

Testa added, "When they're doing Leadership Pleasanton, they're grooming their future candidates at taxpayer expense. They have such a defined political position that I question whether it is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars."

Van Dorn pushed back on the idea that the chamber is "indoctrinating graduates to the chamber policies -- that our people are the ones getting elected," he paraphrased.

"There's only been three council members that have been elected that went through the program before they were elected," Van Dorn said, including former council members Arne Olson and Cindy McGovern and current Councilmember Valerie Arkin.

Housing Commissioner Kate Duggan, Human Services Commissioner Susan Hayes and City Manager Nelson Fialho are also program alumni.

As a participant in the 2014-15 Leadership Pleasanton program during her school board tenure, Arkin told the Weekly "there were many valuable aspects of the program." Now Arkin said she's "interested in learning more about how the city spends dollars on this program and in what capacity."

"Do they simply spend funds to send employees as participants or do they help fund the program in other ways?" Arkin said. "It's concerning if there are additional funds, outside of paying for employees to attend, and that is what I'd like to have more information on."

Arkin also agreed with Brown that "the council should be giving policy direction on the use of such funds," adding, "perhaps there should be consideration given to having the city be more involved in such a program."

If Leadership Pleasanton is taken over by the city, Van Dorn said, "The concern that we would have would be that it would be city-focused, city-centric, and not more open with different viewpoints on different sessions that we have."

Van Dorn continued, "Our No. 1 concern would be perhaps that that would be lost, if the program were to become a city program. We think we have a great diversity of folks that are actually presenting at each different session that we have. We just think it would be missing something, if that were the case."

From a logistical perspective, Van Dorn said it would take "a lot of staff time" for the city to put together their own program, "and when you look at what they have on their plate, it doesn't make sense to recreate a program that's already working."

Councilmember Kathy Narum told the Weekly, "My understanding is staff just don't have the resources to put a program like this together, as it is today."

City staff do have involvement in coordinating the program but the planning, transportation logistics and other tasks normally handled by the chamber would add on too much extra work for them, Narum said. Van Dorn also said the chamber spends lots of time promoting Leadership Pleasanton, which is featured on their website.

"The application form is on our website, we manage the payments, we're promoting it all the time, most promotion by and large is our doing," Van Dorn said. "The city certainly helps but most of it is what we do."

Van Dorn added, "The (chamber) staff time that's used to make the program be successful is probably far more than we get compensated from."

Brown and Testa both said the city could operate a community program similar to those run by Dublin or Livermore city staffers, but Van Dorn countered that Leadership Pleasanton is unique and "very, very different."

"Dublin's program is all specifically focused on city government. It doesn't talk about education and the other areas we focus on in our program," Van Dorn said. "Theirs is roughly 24, 30 hours total ... and ours is around 72 hours long. It's a much more robust program, and I think it's not fair to compare the programs when it's really apples to oranges."

Before making any changes to Leadership Pleasanton, Narum said the four council members -- including herself -- that have not participated in the program, "need to observe some sessions."

"We're talking about a program that four of us (council members) have never done, and that's a reason why I have some discomfort," Narum said. "People that think this needs to be overhauled, I've tried to figure out why."

Narum added that having Leadership Pleasanton run solely by the city "isn't something that's going to make the community better versus an all-abilities playground, or having a community farm on the Bernal property for master gardeners, or making sure we're in compliance with these state (housing) mandates so we don't get sued or fined."

The city's support for the Leadership Pleasanton program will be evaluated within the second year of the council's current two-year work plan, where it is listed as a "B" priority. According to deputy city manager Pamela Ott, the council "will be reviewing the city’s participation in the program when this is scheduled for consideration."

Comments

Jan Batcheller
Registered user
Downtown
on Aug 11, 2021 at 9:55 am
Jan Batcheller, Downtown
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2021 at 9:55 am

With all of the pressing issues facing the City of Pleasanton, I cannot imagine why the City Council is taking up the issue of Leadership Pleasanton. The cost to the City is miniscule compared to other costs, i.e. consultants the City uses on a regular basis. The benefit to the City of Pleasanton is immense.
As an alumna of Leadership Pleasanton, I want it known that there is absolutely nothing elitist about the program. It is promoted year round and applicants are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. It also offers scholarships for the course, as needed. Leadership Pleasanton covers many subjects such as water, schools, the press and justice. The Chamber of Commerce initiated the program and has done a wonderful job of maintaining and updating the program as needed. I toured the Federal Women's prison in Dublin.
I highly recommend Leadership Pleasanton to every resident interested in learning more about our region.
To City Council: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


Shelley
Registered user
Livermore
on Aug 11, 2021 at 10:49 am
Shelley, Livermore
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2021 at 10:49 am

As an Alumna of Leadership Livermore, San Ramon Valley & Pleasanton, I clearly believe in the Leadership Program! Joining Leadership Pleasanton was one of the best decisions that I have made. As a life-long resident, I didn't think that I could learn more about my business community - boy was I wrong! Leadership Pleasanton not only demonstrates how a City is run, but it demonstrates the local school district, hospitals, Fire & Police, Hacienda Business Park and local business. I appreciate that each member pays for the class - a little skin in the game ensures perceived value and is good for the soul. With so many issues facing the City of Pleasanton today, I am confused as to why the City Council would want to take on the Leadership Pleasanton program? If you want to have a program fully focused on the City of Pleasanton... my suggestion would be to start your own program. I agree with Jan Batcheller - If it ain't broke, don't fix it!


Louis Astbury
Registered user
Kottinger Ranch
on Aug 11, 2021 at 11:01 am
Louis Astbury, Kottinger Ranch
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2021 at 11:01 am

It would be nice if the program could be more accessible and affordable to the general citizenry, and not just those that can take off a workday every week. With the rise in the use of Zoom, the program could be developed via virtual classes in order to be more affordable and convenient for the citizens of Pleasanton. Maybe the class size could be bigger through the use of Zoom or other technologies. I recently was involved with a continuing education program during COVID lock downs. We found that organizing high quality presenters, panel discussions, and workshops was much easier via Zoom. For example, getting a presenter from state government in Sacramento regarding regulatory issues would be much easier without the travel requirement. Of course some in person events could be still held for some face-to-face interaction.

Also the Chamber should not select the candidates.


Janeen
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Janeen , Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2021 at 1:02 pm

I am an alumna of Leadership Pleasanton, and the value I received from this 9 month class is invaluable. The Chamber does not "select" the candidates. Rather, the candidates are automatically admitted into the class in the order the applications come in, until the class is full. Once a class is full, applicants are put at the top of the following year's class, if they would like. Also, the day long classes are once a month, not once a week. Class participants visit Local Schools, Callippe Golf Course, Pleasanton's Operations Service Center, Water Treatment Facilities, Hacienda Business Park, Santa Rita Jail, the Women's Detention Facility, Firehouse Arts Center, Alviso Adobe, Museum on Main, City Council Chambers, and more. Not all, but many of those tours can't happen in the evening when places are closed. And, scholarships are available for those participants who perhaps aren't sent to class by their employer. In fact, I was on a scholarship when I attended and am grateful it was available to me.

As a member of the Leadership Pleasanton Steering Committee, I can tell you that we read every single evaluation and comment by participants after each class. We then discuss and tweak classes as needed, given what the feedback is.

I feel strongly, as the above commenters said, that given City Council has so many things to manage of a much higher priority, I just don't understand why this is even being discussed when it is already such a successful program that the participants love. I suggest that the Mayor and City Council members that have never attended, sign up the the next class before discussing this topic again. See for yourself how incredible and well thought-out it is.


Jan Batcheller
Registered user
Downtown
on Aug 11, 2021 at 1:04 pm
Jan Batcheller, Downtown
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2021 at 1:04 pm

The Chamber does NOT select the candidates. All participants are accepted on a first come, first serve basis. Constructive suggestions are well received.


John Cooke
Registered user
Birdland
on Aug 12, 2021 at 10:31 am
John Cooke, Birdland
Registered user
on Aug 12, 2021 at 10:31 am

The Chamber has had undue influence with the city and a long cozy relationship with the City Manager. This program in just another example of the Chamber, with a pro-growth agenda, having influence on who is groomed to take positions on committees, commissions, and fund their candidacies for city council or even the mayor’s office. The Chamber is not voted into office so let's make sure that all their dealings are kept open, and contracts vetted and approved by the city in public meetings. I did not know this was going on for 32 years, the same amount of time I've lived in the city. Since when does an outside organization come to "educate" the citizenry about their own government at the City's expense? Why doesn't the Chamber do it on their own coin, at their offices with their resources and personnel? I do not expect the Chamber to be any different from their main office at the federal level, where they happen to be the largest lobbyist to the US Government, but do it an open manner for all to see in Pleasanton. I think the city should propose to educate us about the Chamber and charge them $10K/yr. to do so? And by the way, the past contracts with the city clearly stipulated that the Chamber selected who could participate, although that may not be in the latest contract, it doesn't mean they don't have their say on the final determination of who is chosen.


Jan Batcheller
Registered user
Downtown
on Aug 12, 2021 at 11:13 am
Jan Batcheller, Downtown
Registered user
on Aug 12, 2021 at 11:13 am

I don't know where you got your information, John Cooke, but it is mostly incorrect. The Chamber does not have a cozy relationship with the City of Pleasanton but it is convivial. The Chamber exists to support business and create community in Pleasanton. The Chamber initiated Leadership Pleasanton as a community resource for those wishing to learn more about our region and to encourage community involvement and did it "on their own coin". The City of Pleasanton became a sponsor after several years. Leadership Pleasanton isn't just about government. It is about schools, health care, safety, water and other aspects of the region.
The Chamber elects officers from its membership like most organizations. The Chamber has very few outside contracts. Its work is handled in the Chamber office. You are welcome to visit the Chamber office and speak with any of the wonderful staff. I think if you do, you will find good folks willing to assist you with any information you seek.
By the way, I am a 47 year resident of Pleasanton and owned two businesses downtown during that time. In the future, please be sure of the facts you are presenting.


John Cooke
Registered user
Birdland
on Aug 12, 2021 at 1:19 pm
John Cooke, Birdland
Registered user
on Aug 12, 2021 at 1:19 pm

I like to speak for myself, use data and form my own opinions. It appears that Jan Batcheller speaks for the Chamber and their intentions. There is nothing that Jan Batcheller can dispute in my comment, as the Chamber did charge the city $10K, not once, but twice in 2019 and a total of $21.8K in 2016 for this very program. There were two checks for $10K each issued by the city to the Chamber for Leadership Pleasanton on 7/26/19 (check no. 26046) and 11/05/19 (check No. 27669). In 2016 $21,800 was paid for Leadership Pleasanton (check No. 2544 for $11,800 & check No. 3870 for $10,000). In 2018 one $10K check was issued for Leadership Pleasanton and and another for $10K was for Beyond the Cloud event (checks No. 18220 & 19213); again in 2017 $20K invoiced and paid (checks No. 10180 and 12443) for Leadership Pleasanton and Beyond the Cloud. I was just floored to know these programs have existed for years and were not aired out or approved by the City Council. For those of you with a curious mind you can request this information either in person at the City's main office or through the City's website. There is nothing more empowering than arming oneself with the facts.


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