Vallejo City Manager Dan Keen was recently asked to justify the extensive staff time dedicated to the Mare Island Straits Economic Development Committee, an ad hoc committee with no formal sanction by any government body.  He begins his response:

“Broadly, the answer to your question is that the primary purpose of this group was to advocate for the resumption of dredging in the Mare Island Channel, and since dredging of the Channel could be related to the successful economic development of both Mare Island and the Waterfront, it was appropriate that staff should be involved in the discussions, even if they were informal.  Sometimes the solutions to long-standing problems – like major transportation improvements, a major public facility or restoring a navigable waterway – come out of discussions between many disparate interests, including all levels of government and private businesses.  When we recognized that this group was working towards potential solutions to the longstanding dredging issue, I okayed the participation of staff so we would not be left out of the discussion.”

Mr. Keen’s characterization of staff involvement with the MISEDC is broadly disingenuous.  This was not some random group with disparate interests.  The Vallejo Economic Development Manager said flatly: “This group is representative of a full set of elected officials and the maritime industry (with MIDD and VMT/Orcem being the most frequent attending).”  

The description offered by Mr. Keen does not resemble the picture that emerges when reading internal staff communications.  In his version an enlightened City management directs staff to participate in some “informal” discussions in recognition of the obvious value of this civic minded ad hoc committee.   In reality Councilmember Malgapo uses city staff as though they work directly for his unsanctioned committee.  He assigns our Economic Development Manager to research Federal policy and procedures and produce the documents that are the primary work products of the committee.  Mr. Malgapo directs a number of City staff to participate as members and attend meetings and events.

Mr. Keen appears to think that this misuse of public resources for private purposes can be justified by simply repeating the mantra of economic development.  Implicit in that belief is the assumption that all forms of economic development are equal in the distribution of impacts and benefits.  Or maybe the assumption is that Vallejo should accept whatever development we can get out of desperation.  If we’re simply putting out the welcome mat for any and all development, why did we bother to spend years and three million dollars on a citizen driven General Plan update?   Our creaky thirty year old plan will suit us just fine in that case.

What longstanding dredging issue is the City Manager talking about?  Is he talking about former Mayor Intintoli’s failed effort in 1999 to get the Army to resume dredging the Strait with U.S. taxpayer dollars?   The Army explained that the problem is siltation around private facilities like the dry docks that require periodic spot dredging, but they are not the Army’s responsibility.  That explains Mr. Intintoli’s participation in the MISEDC as well as the businesses that would benefit from taxpayers footing their dredging costs.  Why dredging the entire Strait should be considered a longstanding interest worth the investment of scarce staff time by the City is not at all apparent.

Mr. Keen continues:

“Ultimately, it is the City Council that decides what priorities staff pursues.  From day one, I have heard loudly and clearly that economic development was a key Council priority.  Dredging the Channel is one of many potential economic development strategies for the City of Vallejo, and for that reason I believed it deserved the staff’s participation when the MISEDC was formed.  However, it is just one of many activities that the staff are involved in with respect to economic development, and I do not think their participation in the meetings was unduly time-consuming or burdensome.”

While Mr. Keen believed that the MISEDC deserved staff’s participation, he apparently didn’t feel that three of our Councilmembers deserved to know that the committee even existed.  If Mr. Keen was so convinced in the loud and clear support for indiscriminate economic development, why not sanction this activity with an open discussion and vote by the Council?  Full Council sanction was asked for repeatedly by the Director of Community and Economic Development, before he quit.  It is difficult for Councilmembers to decide what priorities staff pursues when they are kept in the dark about what’s going on.

Mr. Keen may not think staff participation was unduly time-consuming or burdensome, but he seems to be all alone in his assessment.  Some samples of internal staff communications:

“I don't know yet the complexity of the application; or what would be involved if the City takes the lead with the Corps.  I did not expressly agree to the City staffing this application, especially without knowing the scope of obligations.  However, Councilmember Malgapo has written up that I will be doing this.”
Kathleen Diohep - Economic Development Manager for the City of Vallejo

“Staff's participation in the "ad hoc committee" to date has already diverted our limited Economic Development resources from our other priorities.”
Mark Sawicki | Community & Economic Development Director

“ I don't consider this a priority in the context of your other Economic Development initiatives.  Not sure that you have the capacity to dedicate staff resources to this.”
Craig Whittom, Vallejo Assistant City Manager

“I concur with Craig; this is one of the many potential torpedoes that will divert focus away from Economic Development's dedicated priorities.”
Andrea Ouse, Community and Economic Development Director

“ I concur with Craig’s viewpoint as well."
Daniel E. Keen, Vallejo City Manager