Sunday, July 15, 2012

Slurry Sealing, Ferric Chloride, and Root Foaming: The Exciting World of the Consent Calendar

Many of you have probably looked at a City Council agenda and noticed that the large majority of items are located under "Consent Calendar".

And if you've watched a City Council meeting, you've also noticed that the "Consent Calendar" items are usually passed as one item with no discussion, no debate, and take less time to pass than it took me to type this paragraph.

However, rest assured that a lot of work goes into a "Consent Calendar" item by myself and City staff before a City Council meeting.

The History of the Consent Calendar

Under parliamentary rules governing City Council meetings, Consent Calendar items are reserved for items that are deemed to be non-controversial.  They allow a City Council to save the bulk of it's meeting time for issues in which there is a need for a serious public debate.

Thus, you'll see a lot of Consent Calendar items deal with the routine maintenance of our City infrastructure dealing with items necessary for the health and well-being of our City. 

The Public Works Department usually has several items on the Consent Calendar.  Items like "2011 Citywide Slurry Seal Project" (dealing with sealing and maintaining our streets).  Or "Supply of Ferric Chloride for Wastewater Treatment Plant" ("for sulvite control in the transfer of dewatered biosolids in order to minimize crystallization within the pipes" -- say that ten times fast!).  Or "Root Foaming for City Sewers" ( to control the growth of tree roots). 

All of these items are important to the City, and because they deal with the expenditure of over $100,000 or City funds, by law the contracts for these services must be approved by the City Council.  Thus, they make their way onto the Consent Calendar. 

Working Behind The Scenes to Ensure a Smooth Consent Calendar

While it appears that the City Council and City staff spend mere minutes passing the Consent Calendar at the formal meeting, rest assured that there is a lot more done behind the scenes with each item.

First, City staff spend days, weeks, and months negotiating, analyzing, and working on each contract or issue put up on the Consent Calendar.  If an item is not fully prepared and vetted, it does not make it to the Consent Calendar.

Second, each Consent Calendar item is presented to the City Council with a full staff report written by a City staff member who is an expert in their field.  Every fact and figure is summarized to the City Council, and more detailed information is often provided as attachments to the report.  City staff are also available to answer any questions raised by the Council up until the Consent Calendar is voted on. 

Finally, as your elected representative, I go through each and every Consent Calendar item before a City Council meeting.  Because I am responsible to represent each resident of San Mateo and need to ensure the wise use of your tax dollars, I do the following for each item:

  1. Thoroughly read each staff report and attachments
  2. Do an internet search of each company the City is contracting with to read about the company, check consumer reports, and check the license status of companies requiring contractor's licenses, business licenses, etc.
  3. Where necessary, I follow up with an email or phone call to the City Manager or appropriate City staff member to get additional information.
Only after I have done all of the above steps am I willing to leave the item on the Consent Calendar and pass the item without discussion.

There have been times in the past where I have removed an item from the Consent Calendar.  Click HERE to see the minutes of a council meeting in 2010 where I pulled an item from the Consent Calendar. 

Anyone Can Pull An Item Off The Consent Calendar

If I am not satisfied at any point during my review of a Consent Calendar item, I will ask to pull that item off the Consent Calendar so that the item can be reviewed in a full public hearing. 

That is the key to remember:  An item on the Consent Calendar may be pulled by a Councilmember or anyone else at any time before it is voted on. 

Many times, my questions will lead to an item being pulled in advance of the City Council meeting.

However, in the majority of cases, our City staff is so professional, their reports need no questions or follow-up.

Thus, while Consent Calendar items may seem mundane, with little work done on them, now you know how much work is done by City staff and your City Council to review these items and ensure a healthy City for all of us! 

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