Pleasant Hill residents owe a debt of gratitude to Councilmember David Durant for taking the initiative to address a longstanding performance problem with the city’s elected City Clerk, Kimberly Lehmkuhl. For over a year the Council, staff and public have been unable to reference or track city legislative history because Kimberly Lehmkuhl has failed to produce any Council meeting minutes, as is her legal duty.
At its January 6th meeting the City Council approved a plan proposed by Councilman Durant to essentially relieve its elected City Clerk Kimberly Lehmkuhl, of responsibility for preparing minutes and delegate that duty to city staff. Next month the Council is scheduled to consider placing a measure on the ballot to make the city clerk position an appointed one, rather than elected.
Kimberly Lehmkuhl failed to produce any Council meeting minutes
The Contra Costa Times reports that Terry Francke, a longtime advocate of government transparency and General Counsel of the First Amendment Coalition, has never come across a situation in which a city clerk fails to “keep an accurate record of the proceeding of the legislative body.”
It appears that this mandatory duty could be enforced by an action in Superior Court, and might also be the basis for a taxpayer’s suit against the city,” Francke wrote in an email to the Times.
Residents are left wondering why the City Manager allowed the problem to snowball, instead of reassigning duties once it became clear the problem was chronic. Now staff must plough through a huge backlog of work, likely at additional expense. And while it’s a relief someone has finally broached this heretofore inexplicably “undiscussable” topic, it remains unbelievable this state of affairs was quietly tolerated for over a year, despite numerous complaints by Council members.
After all, maintaining records of official city actions is as fundamental to running a city as issuing monthly account statements are to running a bank.
Following the Council meeting, one observer quipped, “[Kimberly Lehmkuhl] should be removed from office, rather than being relieved from minutes-taking.” A Contra Costa Times editorial urges Lehmkuhl’s resignation, stating:
It’s disgraceful. Kimberly Lehmkuhl should resign . . . Amazingly, the City Council, city manager and city attorney never alerted the public . . . City Manager June Catalano should have stepped up to find a solution, but she didn’t . . . City Attorney Janet Coleson . . . had time to sound the alarm, and didn’t, even though state law was broken.
Councilman Michael Harris, who served as mayor from December 2012 to December 2013, says he spoke privately with Lehmkuhl and is now ‘extremely disappointed’ with the results. Newly appointed Mayor Tim Flaherty says he also talked with her and is ‘cautiously optimistic’ she will fix the problem.
Given these startling revelations, you just can’t help but wonder what else is going on at Pleasant Hill city hall that we just don’t know about . . . yet.
After listening to the painful Council discussion, it appears Pleasant Hill needs to change more than how it prepares meeting minutes. Lehmkuhl’s chronic performance failure seems more like a symptom than a cause. The Council discussion made one thing clear: city leaders had been ineffective at managing job performance — particularly when it involves conflict — and concealed this significant neglect of duty from the public.
At Monday’s meeting Durant displayed steely resolve to fix the problem and increase transparency and accountability at city hall. Councilmember Jack Weir offered Durant his enthusiastic support. Let’s hope Durant’s commitment to oversee his “Open Government Initiative” remains firm while reforms are made, and that fellow Councilmembers support his efforts.
One final thought: Municipal Clerks are responsible for elections — and 2014 is an election year. In the wake of these revelations, and with Kimberly Lehmkuhl still in office, Pleasant Hill voters may have cause for concern beyond official records.