Council prioritizing city-wide goals

DOWNEY - The first half of the City Council Priority Workshop took place on Feb. 14 and, although it did not yield any eye-popping revelations or details, it impressed the lone member of the public present. Longtime Downey resident and a fixture at Council meetings Chuck Ana, exclaimed, "This is very informative!"Indeed, the three-fold purpose of the exercise was nothing if not informational: to provide a chance for city staff to present departmental operations and mandates, to give an opportunity for Council to take a "macro" look at the organization, and (later) attempt to blend department operations and mandates with Council goals. A visibly excited Mayor Mario Guerra said as far as he knew it was the first time such a gathering had been assembled. Usually policy mandates would trickle down to the departments concerned through the city manager for implementation. Now it is envisioned that input from the departments would find its way up to the City Council to blend ideas in a more structured way and forge a true consensus. An analogy in the business world would be a general sales or annual report conference attended by key personnel and the public. City Manager Gerald Caton, aware of the importance of the proceedings, would get up from his chair from time to time to make clarifying or rallying comments to clarify a point from his perspective or spark further enthusiasm. In his discussion of the current fiscal framework, Assistant City Manager Lee Powell pointed to charts showing a rising police, fire, and public works staffing trend, and thus getting the biggest budget share, explaining "These three departments bear the brunt of safety in the city." He said employees represent 75 percent of the cost of city government, and funds rise in prosperous times, dip in slow economic times or in a recession, and that "We just have to weather the bad times as best as we can." He also said that because city management, with sound guidance from the Council, has historically handled its finances prudently, the city of Downey has remained better off in these economically unsettled times than other neighboring cities. Police Chief Roy Campos again enunciated his department's three main thrusts: a professional respect for everybody a police officer encounters on the street; diligent, hard-nosed, street-level, law enforcement personnel; and exploration/inclusion of technology in department operations. He said his aim is to contribute even more to a "healthy, beautiful, safe and strong community." He also said that patrol activities include undercover operations and that there is continual training and preparedness among his force. Finance director/risk manager John Michicoff said his department includes accounting (revenue collections), purchasing, information technology, and the administration of investments, insurance, civil liability matters, and "anything else that comes our way." To underscore the department's extensive load, he said it is responsible for auditing 11 entities including the city (SEAACA, Gas Tax, Civic Center Corp., Cemetery District, etc.), numerous state-required financial regulatory reports, and budget. (He is particularly proud of his department's award-winning Comprehensive Annual Financial Report). The community development department, now comprising economic development and housing, planning division, and building and safety after a recent realignment, equally boasts a host of activities and programs that boggle the mind: redevelopment and downtown revitalization issues, streamlining the permit application process and other process flows, with respect to zoning, code enforcement, and environmental considerations. The names of building structures it has had to deal with lately include Porto's Bakery, Downey Landing, Persico Shopping Center, Johnie's Broiler/Bob's Big Boy, Kaiser Permanente, etc., as part of an all-out effort to make Downey a business-friendly city. Directing operations is Deputy City Manager Gilbert Livas. Because the specter of unexpected emergencies has caused worrisome concern to everyone involved, a department of emergency preparedness and management under Deputy City Manager Mark Sauter has recently been created. It was developed to prevent whatever calamity may arise, prepare the city and its residents and volunteers as much as possible, respond (police and fire the early responders, with an upgrade in policy decisions), perform (command and control), and recover through support and repair operations. "These identified resources, we can throw our arms around," Sauter said. More will be said later about these policies and procedures, plans and priorities in the weeks ahead, including the council members' pet goals. The rest of the departments - Public Works, the Fire Department, Community Services and Special Projects - is scheduled to make their presentations on Feb. 28, in the second of the two-part Priority Meeting. ********** Published: February 20, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 44