The Pleasanton City Council voted last week to stop the city's financial support of the Leadership Pleasanton program and reduce staff time dedicated to it as the city works to create a similar program of its own.
The council voted in its 4-1 decision to not provide the $10,000 sponsorship that the program typically received every year from 2000 until 2019, before it was paused due to the pandemic. The city did not support the program in 2021.
"I cannot personally support another $10,000. We stepped back from that (in 2021) and it seems that we're going in the reverse direction if we say, 'Here, let's, let's leave it as is and give you another $10,000 and just buy some more time' -- (that's) not what I hear up here on the council," Mayor Karla Brown said at the March 7 council meeting.
"The goal is to very kindly separate and have two programs that complement each other," Brown added. "If there's overlap, it's very little overlap. But if anybody that has been in the Leadership program or people who may want to be in the Leadership program go through the program, they will want to do both if they want to get involved at a higher level with the city."
Organized by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Pleasanton was developed in 1987 by two men from Georgia who went throughout the country and spoke to different chambers of commerce about creating a program to identify and help develop community leaders from different sectors within the community, according to Yianna Theodorou.
She said the first class graduated in 1989.
Each annual program runs from September through May and hosts 30 to 32 participants. Applicants to the program are residents, local business leaders, local government members, social service organizations and professional participants.
Theodorou, a chamber employee who manages the Leadership Pleasanton program, told the council that about 75% of the applicants from the first class back from the pandemic got their fees paid by their employers while four scholarships and tuition donations were given to those who couldn't afford to pay the $950 application fee.
She told the council that the city first started sponsoring the program with $7,500 in 2000 before sending the $10,000 every subsequent year.
"The goal was to make a program that went behind the scenes of the major areas of the city and gave people the opportunity to get involved and to know what was happening with just the nuts and bolts of the community," Theodorou said. "The thought was also if people kind of were exposed to all these facets, then they'd be more invested in their surroundings and their neighborhoods and their community."
Theodorou and James Cooper, president and CEO of the chamber, emphasized to the council that it was also a great way for many of the program participants to become future city commission and committee members or school board members and just be more involved in the community in general.
"It shows how when we work together we can put together a program that does benefit the community and it benefits the community in a way that may lead to lasting impact from those folks," Cooper said.
But when COVID hit, Leadership Pleasanton, like many other non-essential programs at the time, was put on pause.
Then in 2021, funding of the program came to the council, where several council members voiced their concerns with the nearly $1,000 fee and that the once-a-month classes were during the day, when most people are working.
That same sentiment was echoed at the March 7 meeting where Councilmember Julie Testa expressed her issue with the fact that city staff was even bringing up the idea of continuing to provide the $10,000 -- which includes participation fees for up to four city employees at a total of $3,800 -- when there was a discussion in 2021 to the contrary.
She also pointed to a statement made by a speaker during public comment, John Bauer, who referred to the chamber, which has a political action committee, as a political organization. Bauer said that not only should the city not be investing staff time and money on something that costs residents that much, but that they shouldn't be spending tax dollars on any political organization.
"I think that while the money that we're talking about in this isn't huge in the scheme of our budget, it's still tax dollars ... even the last speaker's comment about tax dollars going toward a political organization, I think that was certainly brought up by other residents in 2021. So very uncomfortable with that," Testa said.
Councilmember Jack Balch reflected on the chamber as a political organization by reminding Testa that the police and firefighter unions have PACs, but there is no talk of stopping support of those organizations.
Returning to the 2021 discussion, Testa said, "I don't see that the chamber took into consideration the concerns that had been raised by both the council and the community."
"We should have a program that offers opportunity without barriers, that should be accessible," she added. "I think that really is a barrier that the chamber has not taken into consideration and is moving forward, so I have a concern about that."
The reason staff had waited until March 7 to discuss the program was that in 2021 the council voted to evaluate the program within the second year of the council's current two-year work plan, where it is listed as a "B" priority.
City Manager Gerry Beaudin told the council that as staff are in that second year of the work plan process, they have not initiated any processes to look into alternatives or how they will continue the partnership with the chamber, which is why the chamber representatives came to the council.
"There's two things that are happening right now," Beaudin said. "There's a work plan prioritization effort that we're going through from a city staff perspective and then there's the upcoming budget, and so this seems timely in terms of fitting in this analysis or this opportunity to reevaluate the program."
Beaudin added, "But also, we need to make sure that we're programming. It's a really small amount relative to the overall operating budget, but it is an amount that we want to make sure that we have in or out so that we're not sidetracking our budget discussions come April / May timeframe."
He also said staff wanted to evaluate how the leadership program will fit within the new five-year strategic planning framework that the city is looking at to replace the longstanding two-year process for identifying and prioritizing public projects.
Now, per the council's vote, starting with next year's program that begins in the fall, the city will move to provide Leadership Pleasanton with two days of staff time instead of the four days the city had provided in the past.
Under Councilmember Valerie Arkin's motion, the city will also send four people from the city -- per the city manager's discretion -- and continue to pay the $950 fee per person required to enroll, for a total of $3,800 each year.
However, one of the main points in Arkin's motion was to focus on creating a city-led program by early next year -- she preferred somewhere in the February timeframe -- that offers educational modules just like Leadership Pleasanton does, but at no cost and at a more convenient time for people who work weekday hours.
"I don't want to touch it for this year ... that will stay as is," she said. "So I think we're being generous and being a partner with the chamber and I think they have a great program. I think it'll continue to be a good program and we will have a program that will meet the needs of others in the community that (the chamber) might not be serving."
She said that with the goal of engaging the community, offering two programs and having the city-led one focus on modules specific to local government will only complement the Leadership Pleasanton program.
But Balch, who was the lone dissenting voice, had several issues with the council's move to take away staff time and funding from the program. Balch is currently going through the program himself.
After calculating the time spent toward the program, he said that the 300 hours staff contribute in preparation and planning to the program modules shouldn't be taken away.
"So .0003% of our staff time to support the program. We have 988,000 hours of staff time equivalent, based upon the number of staff we have ... So for 300 hours, we're not going to support our staff interacting with the community?" Balch asked.
Brown commented back saying that the city was still short on staff in the Pleasanton Police Department and other departments, which Testa agreed with saying that meant staff time was too precious.
"I'm overwhelmed with the thought that so much staff time would be going into this program, when we are so often counseled to be judicious in what we are directing staff to do," Testa said.
However, as Arkin made her motion in hopes of finding common ground on the dais, Balch's main concern was on the council's direction on pushing for a city-led program to be created around the February to March timeframe.
"I think that if we heard the people that spoke today, they talked about the relationship that is so essential to help educate our community and bring them along. And the reason I can't support it is because I think the transition the motion outlines is too accelerated," he said.
"If we partnered with our chamber to tell them, 'Hey, the city will program two days in a couple of years,' realizing that this program, and this process has been going on for 30 years and we're asking to change on a dime; that's a pretty significant change for our chamber that we're supposed to be supporting and working with," Balch added.
Councilmember Jeff Nibert also touched on the transition period and said that there should be more collaboration between the city and the chamber during the transition period between the end of this year's program and the next one.
Balch added that if the motion to create a city-led program was timed out so that the chamber can plan its programming along with the city-led modules, then it would be something he could support.
"Having Leadership Pleasanton being supported from four days to two days at the next class, because we're halfway through this one, is too quick of a timeline," he said. "I believe to be able to support the motion, have that been transitioned over a larger period of time so that they could adapt, I think that's something I could look into supporting."