Council members call for discussion on adding stipends

PASO ROBLES — On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the Paso Robles City Council had a special meeting directly after its regular meeting, voting 5-0 to have City staff make  changes to the bylaws of both the Paso Robles Planning Commission and the Paso Robles Housing Authority.

According to City staff, the request for the special meeting came after the Council’s agenda posted. State law dictates that the public must have the opportunity to review what is going to be discussed at a Council meeting and to give people ample time to attend and comment on the agenda items. Special meetings take place when time is of the essence.

In the case of last week’s special meeting, the Council was looking to interview for positions on both the Housing Authority and the Planning Commission. The special meeting allowed Council members to discuss their views and ideas about the two groups and direct the staff to research and advise.

Doug Barth stepped forward during the public comment portion of the meeting and suggested that the Council look at the possibility of issuing a stipend to the people who volunteer their time to the PRPC. Due to term limits, Barth is vacating his position of the past nine years on the Planning Commission. Barth argued that a stipend would show people that the City appreciates their volunteering and also might attract younger business owners.

“The Planning Commission is not going to make $100,000 off this thing,” Barth said. “But to just give them something [that says], ‘Hey, we appreciate your time.’”

Councilmember John Hamon agreed with the rest of the Council that a stipend is a potentially good idea. He said that the amount of money does not matter but boils down to the thought behind the action. Councilmember Fred Strong noted that members of the PRHA and the PRPC are not quite part-time employees but are close to it. He said that the application and interview process is very much like filling a paid position. Strong went so far as to say that paying members a minimum wage would not be out of the question.

“There are so many parallels there,” Strong said, “that I can almost see doing a minimum wage for the actual hours they meet rather than just a stipend, but that’s a decision that has to be made.”

Hamon shared his concerns about the “applicant pool.” He said there might not be people applying who have the knowledge and background that the Council is looking to bring on the two boards. Hamon said he sees a need to “encourage the right kind of people.” He also suggested an idea that caught the interest with the rest of the Council. Hamon said that he would like to explore having an alternate member on the panels as a backup when enough members are not present to cast a deciding vote.

“I think the alternate idea is great,” Councilmember Steve Gregory said.

Strong voiced his opposition to term limits. He argued that when someone’s term expires, they must reapply for the position. He said that having to reapply in a sense is a term limit. Strong said he didn’t like the idea of dismissing someone “who knows what they’re doing” and opening the door to appointing someone less qualified. He proposed eliminating the term limits. 

“I don’t know how you feel about term limits, but I always wondered why do you fire someone for doing the job right?” Strong said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.” He later said, “Quite frankly, the way this is playing out right now, we’re losing somebody that I would rather not lose if they were willing to continue.”

Councilmember Maria Garcia said she wanted to make the application and hiring process less intimidating for the public. She suggested a listing of top attributes or qualities the council is looking for to show people who may not think they are qualified that they may, in reality, be a good fit. Mayor Steve Martin suggested staff should look to people who have volunteered on PRHA and the PRHC for their perspective and recommendations. The meeting’s purpose was to discuss options and then give the staff direction, no changes to the bylaws were made.

The Council unanimously directed City staff to delve into the suggestions presented. City staff will bring their recommendations and ways to implement them back to the Council in the coming weeks.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles