City Council Meeting – 12 July 2016 – Interview Interim City Manager Mark Relph

At the end of this meeting the council “interviewed” Mark Relph, Public Works director, for the interim city manager position.  If you don’t have time to read the entire set of minutes – read the interview.  He is a very different leader than Michael Penny.

City Council Study Session                                                   Citizen Minutes

July 12, 2016

Bruce Beckman and Doug Clark were both absent from this meeting.

B2 Moratorium

There are 7 applications that are affected by this moratorium. The B2 zoning currently allows no more than 50% commercial and the proposed change would make the residential part of the B2 zoning conditional. Another change would be a requirement to notify property owners within 300 feet written notice about the zoning. Bill Hopping was concerned that any reduction in height would be equivalent to a “taking” to which Jocelyn Mills said that any vested property rights occurs when the application is made. Brinkman thought it was close to her comfort level.

5 Year Constrained Capital Plan

Doug Farmen mentioned a funding gap of $104,000,000. There are a few options to get the money needed. A sales tax increase, a lodging tax but more time was needed to establish the conversation with the community. Polling indicates some support and some neighborhoods are looking into ways to fix their own streets, which might create areas of have and have-nots.

Phil Cernanec said this does not get to one of the big citizen issues – congestion.

Relph said that was correct. The time is near to approach the Mineral and Santa Fe intersection with DRCOG – it takes years but if you don’t get started it won’t happen. Sterling Ranch will impact that intersection.

The idea behind this item is to set a 5 year plan to address the streets and roads in Littleton by repairing and accept a plan that keeps up with the maintenance over the long term in a way that will result in a more cost effective way to pay for the maintenance. This approach will take some large up front costs and it is a plan that council needs to discuss in their budget discussions in Sept.

Council Protocols

Debbie Brinkman said she did not know how much discussion they needed unless there was another concern. She apologized for her violation of the protocols and asked them to move on.

Jerry Valdes said there were some disagreements among them regarding emails.

Mark Relph Interview for Interim City Manager 

Bill Hopping asked Mark Relph if he had ever served in a city manager role before.

Relph said he had filled in for a week or two as city manager in the last two cities. He applied for a city manager position 15 years ago in two different cities and was runner up twice and after reflection thought he would be better at public works. Personally he thinks he would be pretty good at it but is not interested in being a permanent city manager of Littleton based on where he is at in his professional career.  This should be an advantageous to the council as most candidates will want to know if someone internally wants the position – there will be more interest knowing that there isn’t.

 Valdes thanked Relph for stepping up – our public works department is huge and will need a lot of attention and to bring in someone new for 6 months that is unfamiliar would be a disadvantage. He liked the idea that Relph knows the city and he has a great support staff and the new city manager will have a very strong staff.

Relph said he believed that – Mike Braaten and he had some conversation about how they would manage the responsibilities because he will have to stay involved in Public Works (PW) to some extent because there are too many things going on. The field operations side – yes, there is some work to be done there but they have a lot of experience – those guys know what to do. Relph said he would have to stay involved on the engineering side of PW. He would have to pay close attention. He has interviewed three separate times for a city engineer but has yet to hire one. He is taking steps to try one more time. He thinks he has it set up to they can succeed by setting up contracts and the fire station will be finished in the next two weeks. He had to manage that project which has taken a ton of work. Timing is good for him to step in the role. Will it be hard? Yes, it will be hard but he does not view this as the hardest he has taken on in his career – the assignment is very difficult but what is different He has been given assignments where people were actively working for him to fail and for the organization to fail. That’s pressure and that’s difficult so he sees this particular piece knowing that it is difficult but at a different level and he would rather enjoy it.

Brinkman – why are you not interest in the permanent position?

Relph – I am just much more efficient at PW – it is where my heart is at anyway. I like the interaction at the policy level with the council and the community. I have taken on some pretty unique capital projects in public works and I have had some great success with that. When I first came here I told you that I am not in the business to manage the status quo – I want the big challenge. It was explained to me rather clearly what I am stepping into.   There’s a lot of great work that has been done here but there are a lot of people that will be retiring – others that will focus on collecting what is in people’s heads here and put them in place so others may succeed. I think we have a lot of funding challenges and I have been through those before – they are hard. I have been through a lot of public and community discussion about tax increases or bond measures.

One story I would like to share – look at as an example – I learned a lot and probably exceeded there at a level most people might not succeed. I was asked to negotiate the purchase of the water system from the city of Seattle – it would be like us going to Denver Water and telling them we are tired and don’t like your service and want to buy you out. You can imagine what Denver Water’s reaction would be – Seattle was not interested and I worked on that issue for 5 years and negotiated an acquisition of $25,000,000.

Then I had to go and create a water utility from scratch – we had nothing – no utility building, equipment or manpower. He assembled a study that showed all the resources necessary to create the infrastructure to support and maintain that and then had to design the system to separate the city of Shoreline from the city of Seattle. He had the purchase price of $35 million and a complete separation cost and improvements of $30 million to take to a public process over one year and that’s the pressure that I felt. We had a water utility actively campaigning for our failure.   Then after the one-year process it went to a vote. The public had to approve the purchase price and the separation and it passed by 60% during a recession. That was, by far, the most difficult thing I have ever done but the most rewarding. It was the public process – there was no way the dais was going to convince the citizens. It had to come from the community so that’s my expertise and why I like public works.   And why I want to stay in PW.

Cernanec – sounds like you have dealt with organization changes – what do you see as additional complicated challenges? What do you see, in the interim role, and how do you address those not just within PW but in all department and partners Littleton has?

Relph – that is the heart of it – he has been through this before – I have seen several transitions in city managers in his years. Some have gone well and some have not. It is going to be very difficult for the next several months. Council has to find some way to communicate among them selves to get the business done. There are some things that I can help you with and there are a lot of things – the relationship issues – that you have to take on that I cannot solve. I am straightforward. I will tell you what I believe and if you don’t agree I am not offended.   It is a critical time for council. You need to decide what will be your priorities during this interim period. He suggested that a work plan will be created from the list of priorities and he will take that and tell council what staff’s capacity is and what resources they have to manage and over what time and he will bring that back to council and then council has to approve the work plan – that would be the focus where we would spend our time. Another thing that is important in managing this issue, in the next several months and I think Mike actually started this – a council log of the requests that each council member brings and many times initiated by the citizens. It is a great way for us to capture the history – there are several things that I do not know that M Penny was working on for you and we would collect that history. I have had great success with city manager’s doing this – it is a great way to share with all the council what the requests are and a great way for staff to really assess the capacity to respond. I will tell you what I think we can and can’t do. I would like the log as contrast against the work plan – if there’s something you want us to tackle – I relate that back to tell you what I think the org has the capacity to handle. If you want to change the work plan– that’s fine.

Cernanec – within the protocols and some aspects of the Charter of the city it is stated that the council is not to be involved in the day to day operations of the city and that there is an evenness of information – how would you manage those?

Relph – Every city I have ever been in states that council stay in the policies and we implement the policy. However, I think there is some collaboration that needs to occur.   I would suggest myself, Mike Braaten, and the city attorney meet with the mayor and mayor pro tem once a week to review the agenda – and through the interim period to review the agenda and not just the next meeting but several months because when you look at the work plan and you contrast the meeting that is where you decide when do we take that on – when do we have the capacity to meet that schedule. So there’s a two-way communication – the agenda and the calendar is yours – it is not mine. I know the protocols say the CM sets the agenda but that is your opportunity to do the city’s business – it is mine to tell you if we have the capacity and timing – we have to mutually agree but there needs to be more conversation about your calendar and when we do things.

Cernanec – How do you do that recognizing the requirement for evenness of communication across council?

Relph – We have to share that – each week I have to summarize – this is what we discussed and what we concluded. Also I have seen protocols where council can decide where two or more want to add an item on the agenda – the log is a good way to do some of that. Whenever a council member asks the city manager, or even a department director, questions – all members get the response. I will error on the side of sharing more information than less

There are a lot of things that I want to share and if you decide it is too much you can

tell me.

Cole – what question should we be asking that you think we won’t?

Relph – I have seen city councils that function as a team and realize right now that is a little difficult – you have to find ways to work among yourselves to function more as a team. By doing so I think there will be more opportunities to communicate and collaborate. The more it is an issue and the more difficult we will have to try to push things forward. You have to make policy decision to set the direction so it is really important for you to tell me what your priories are for the next year – to develop a work plan that you all agree to.

Hopping – Regarding PW, will it require you to shuffle within your department for the short term or do you anticipate hiring someone to help out within the PW department?

Relph – I will be asking the fleet manager to step up to operations director for the field operations. That will be a discussion with my staff about what that means for street maintenance and ground maintenance and fleet – they would all fall in under operations director – also facility. The engineering piece, development review, obviously capital construction – those are the pieces I have contracts.

Hopping – If you are in the city manager role what other departments within the city do you have experience – tell us about your experience with police, fire, community development, finance and other areas – is that something you would be stepping – do you have any back ground or just a supervisory piece?

Relph – I have a fair amount of experience in community development. In my early career as community director for city of Delta, way back long ago. Planning functions, I have a fair amount of experience. I believe I am pretty proficient at budgeting and accounting. My experience in utilities is pretty deep and unique – it is one of the reasons why the city of Shoreline hired. A lot of that comes pretty easy to me.  Police and fire – certainly I have had operation exchanges with them over time – certainly with the city of Grand Junction – pretty deep relationship with both of them – specifically the police department – traffic op and traffic enforcement and at that level – certainly pretty deep. I even started initial design work for the police facility in Grand Junction – I have been exposed to a lot of their operations.

I have built fire stations before so this is not my first. Museums and library not much experience to be honest.

Valdes – given some of the legal issues involved in right now and some of them, one that I can think of, (the Grove) involves the PW department to some degree. In my opinion, it seems helpful to have someone like yourself that doesn’t have the learning curve over the next six months, whatever it might be, but before you learned the secret handshake, what are your thoughts on all this?

Relph – As far as the legal department?

Valdes – And some of the legal issues.

Relph – I have a long history of working with the city attorney’s office. When with the city of Grand Junction– almost ½ of the entire operation came out of PW and utilities and so my relation with the city attorney’s office was long and deep – we had our own water resources so water law – which is complicated in this state – I am familiar with it.   In fact at the time there was a consortium of cities and Denver Water District was fighting the Dept. of Interior Colo Compact in the lower basin   – the current director of DW was the special attorney that the Grand Junction consortium hired- so I worked with him on water issues. I am not surprised he is the director of DW now and certainly my work with Shoreline was really deep with the city attorney’s office– so from a legal perspective I feel very comfortable and certainly find it easy to read case law if I have to – State laws in WA are very different than the state of CO and I have a lot to catch up so certainly we have lots of issues going on here – but to the second part of your question, I suppose I don’t see anything I haven’t seen before – yes, they are unique but they are all unique and I am comfortable jumping in if I have to.

Cernanec –We are entering a budget discussion how can you be in a position to advocate for everyone else as well as PW and be viewed internally as unbiased as well as externally unbiased across all services recognizing there are some tough items – particularly some associations that have been bruised.

Relph – one of my strengths is I look at the issues pretty objectively – not only in the interim period but when I return to PW – one of his skill sets is his interpersonal skills – the ability to facilitate the discussion during the budget process. We will get all the issues out on the table and I will certainly tell you what is important to PW.  He is confident that the department directors will advocate for their budgets but in the end it really is a collective decision. I may have to step in and say this is what I think should happen but I think it will be a collective decision given to council.

Cole – We have had a couple of different kinds of budget proposals what kind do you like – zero based budgeting, policy questions and other – do you have a favorite one and find one more beneficial?

Relph – I absolutely do. Performance based budgeting is the most effective – true performance based budgeting – a lot of organizations talk about how to do that but my experience is very few actually perform this well. Honestly if I made a recommendation about what council should be looking for in a future city manager a lot of it starts with a strategic planning – true strategic planning.

As an example, council goals – when I first got here I saw a series of goals and objectives with no action steps. There’s nothing there that tells staff exactly what staff is to do and even if you have those actions steps there – there is no connection to the budget. In my view, if you truly work to perfect performance based budgeting and do a strategic plan, set the goals and objectives and set the action steps.   We collectively agree this is what we shall do over this period of time and we put the resources to it. So your budget is tied into the plan.   Today, staff says this kind of addresses your goal – that is insufficient – that kind of connection is weak.   During this interim period I think we need to maintain the status quo. I think the approach we take with policy questions – I think we should maintain that and whoever the new city manager – whatever your goals are then – you have that discussion with him or her and I am confident the budget will somehow change to reflect that correction.

But it is not wise to pursue that right now as the interim. The biggest part of my challenge is that I provide the rest of the department directors enough resources for them to pursue the council direction.

Budget is an opportunity for you to work as a team to set direction and for you to set a direction as a team in the budget and for staff to implement into the action steps.

Cole – could you get us moving in that direction?

Relph – If that was a goal of council – sure, we can try for some improvement. The topic is broad and complicated and lots to be gained if you do it well. But I am reluctant to make changes without conversation with the council about their goals and objectives.   Some of the objectives are a little too vague to truly understand what is intended. Could we make better connections between the current goals and the budget– sure we could. Just want to make sure the expectation is reasonable.

Hopping – The organization needs to stabilize after losing the leader how would you go about identifying strengths and weaknesses in the organization that might help us select a city manager?

Relph – What are your goals? There needs to be a regular personal connection with each department. What I see currently, that happens with a lot of our director meetings, we focus on the council agenda and that is important but the real need now is to focus on the goals and objectives of your action plan. Your work plan – that is where the conversation needs to focus and where the relationship with myself and the rest of the departments – there’s little conversation about learning and understanding what is going on in the other departments.

Cernanec – what do you need from council in the “roll-back” without penalty language in the contract? Related to that, what would less than unanimous support from council that you should take on?

Relph – I would want this council to be frank with me. That is the only way that I am going to get enough feedback from you and I need to meet with you individually at least one a month to have a one on one to get more feedback. What I also need, if I meet with the mayor and mayor pro tem as I suggested, I need to debrief the council meetings – I need to hear, at least from those two, what worked well and what didn’t. It is just a level of communications and literally true collaboration we have to have to work together to figure out – to find the approach that will fit to move us forward at this time. My approach – my skill set – is to meet with people face to face as often as I can. I don’t fine email real effective; I need to talk to people. I will suggest that we put more on study session – there are already a couple of issues that merit more discussion – study sessions are under utilized and it is another opportunity to help manage some of the changes that will be occurring in the next year.

Cernanec – anything less than unanimous?

Relph – well I sure – I suppose but I think if there is anyone dead set against me I am ok with that. I will support whatever council wants to do.   I am vested in this organization. I took this job looking at it as my last so I want this organization and you to succeed. I don’t want to go anywhere else. So if it were not unanimous I would have to ponder what that means. Depends on how it is said – if the issues are a serious concern about me stepping up I think you are better off with someone else.

Brinkman thanked Mark and opened the discussion on salary. His current salary is $130,000.

Relph said he was prepared to tell them what he would like to be paid. Relph said it was a fascinating experience; he had never negotiated in public and on television and they were fortunate that his wife was not there to do the negotiating. He made $160,000 in Shoreline and he thinks the city got a bargain at $130,000 and the trouble they are having hiring a city engineer at $120,000 – Littleton got a bargain. He has not had a one-year evaluation so technically he is still on probation.   He was asking for a base salary of $158,000 and $200 a month car allowance. M. Penny got $400 per month car allowance. He thought $200 was more reasonable. He was not wiling to negotiate anything less and he was prepared not to take a vacation for the remaining year and wants to carry over the unused vacation.

Brinkman asked the council if they wanted to offer something less or go with a circuit rider.

Cernanec wanted to look at other options. There were a lot of entanglements with PW and he thought it was very important to look at other options and not to would be a mistake.

Hopping asked if anyone knew how much a circuit rider would cost and how long would it take to get one?

Mike Braaten said it would depend on the willingness, who is available – there are a lot of variables. There are probably 4 or 5 that could do the job according to Sam Mamet from the Colorado Municipal League.

Hopping wanted to talk about the merits of a circuit rider versus someone in the organization. Someone inside could assess easier but we are dealing with a lot of unknowns. Mark would help stabilize the organization.

Valdes said he was OK with Mark. He is familiar and well respected by the organization. We have legal issues and he is on-board. It is a big job and Valdes was confident that Mark could manage it.

Cole agreed with Valdes.

Brinkman said she wished they had a better option but she would respect the staff opinion – Mark is someone they know. She was uncomfortable having Relph move out of PW and he was taking a huge bite. Council needs to be very honest with him if they see any concerns. Council needs a Plan B.

Relph said he was truly honored and held high regard for each of them. He will put his heart and soul and he was prepared to do whatever to make it successful.





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