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Recap the May 17 Sebastopol City Council Meeting
The city council faced a lighter agenda than usual at its May 17 city council meeting, but that’s because there was a whale of an item – the proposed consolidation of the Sebastopol Fire Department with the Goldridge Fire Protection District – that was expected to take up a big chunk of time.
Proclamation honoring the retirement of longtime city employee Nate Sutton, who over 22 years with the Public Works Department rose from street sweeper to the assistant superintendent of the department.
Proclamation honoring Katie Davis, who after several years is leaving her role as executive director of the Sebastopol Area Senior Center.
(Note: The consent calendar consists of items that are routine in nature or don’t require additional discussion, often because they’ve been discussed extensively at a previous council meeting.)
The council approved the extension of online council meetings due to the continuing COVID pandemic and approved the change in the number of Planning Commission members from seven to five, as discussed at the May 3 meeting.
Regular Agenda Items
Funding for a clerk position for the Sonoma County Mayors and Councilmembers Association.
The local Mayors and Councilmembers Association wants to hire a part-time contract clerk, the cost of which would be shared amongst all Sonoma County Cities. This part-time subcontractor position is expected to cost around $44,000 a year, and member cities are being asked to budget $5,000 to $6,000 a year to cover that expense. The council agreed in principle with this idea, asked that it be added as a placeholder item in the budget, but pushed off a vote to approve to a future date.
Report out by the Fire Ad Hoc Committee: Recommendation to Consolidate with the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District
With the announced retirement of longtime Fire Chief Bill Braga, the city is at a crossroads with respect to the future operation of its Fire Department. The question at hand is should the city begin the search for a new chief and thus commit to remaining an independent municipal fire department, or should it do like many other local fire departments have done and consolidate with a neighboring or county-wide fire protection district.
The City Council’s Fire Ad Hoc Committee (Mayor Slayter, Councilmember Rich, and staff) had studied the matter, met with many stakeholders, considered several options, and with the ultimate goal of reaching 24/7 staffing within the next five years, concluded that the best option was to consolidate with the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District. Their report made a cogent argument for that path and recommended that the council vote to begin the process of consolidation.
The Ad Hoc committee got pushback from Sebastopol’s fire department volunteers, who felt like they’d been left out of the process and questioned the Ad Hoc members credentials for making such a recommendation, arguing that the analysis should have been done by a fire protection specialist. (The city had already budgeted $40,000 to hire a consultant for this purpose, but the Ad Hoc committee hoped they could save that money by doing the report themselves.) During public comment a number of other concerns were raised as well – including the effect of consolidation on homeowners’ fire insurance - and the tenor of the discussion was tense.
Councilmember Sarah Gurney, who said she thinks consolidation is probably inevitable, questioned the completeness of the report.
“I would expect to see some specific financial analysis – I mean, spreadsheets … and I would want that spreadsheet to have Plan A, Plan B, Plan C so I could understand the fiscal impact of each choice. The council is being recommended to go down a road without really knowing what the financial impact might be,” Gurney said.
Ad Hoc members Slayter and Rich repeated that, contrary to the perception that they were ramming through a decision, this was just the beginning of the process.
“What we’re hearing from the community is to have more information, to have many, many more questions answered, and our answer here to that is that this is the beginning of a process, and that everything that everyone has said in this meeting today … is a part of that process,” Rich said.
In the end, the council decided to extend consideration of this issue – this required a motion to extend the life of the Ad Hoc Fire Committee to the end of September – and to seek the aid of the already-budgeted fire protection specialist as a consultant and neutral third party.
Creation of Police Trainee position
Law enforcement across the country is experiencing a diminished pool of well-qualified candidates for police officer positions, and Sebastopol is feeling the pinch. As a result, Police Chief Kevin Kilgore introduced a plan to create a new position in the Sebastopol Police Department called Police Officer Trainee and open it up to qualified candidates to work as police officers while they attend the police academy. Hiring for this position would open immediately. The council approved this proposal with minimal discussion.
You can watch the entire city council meeting here: https://livestream.com/accounts/14608643/events/10170190.
Find the agenda and supporting documents here: https://ci.sebastopol.ca.us/Meeting-Event/City-Council/2022/City-Council-Meeting-May-17,-2022