We had an incident at City Hall this morning that is a symptom of a much bigger problem affecting most cities across the country. A homeless, drug-addicted man who is incapable of caring for himself accosted several female employees as they reported to work. The most important message I want to pass along to all employees outside of public safety responders who are trained to handle these situations is that no one should feel obligated to walk into a threatening situation. Any employee should feel free to walk back to their car or any other safe area if there is a problem at the entrance to a City facility. No supervisor will find fault with an employee for reporting late to work if there is a perceived threat to safety. Employees should also know that they can walk away from any threatening person whether inside or outside the building. City Hall has two keycard lock entrances – one on the north (Third Avenue) side of the building and the other on the east (Ellsworth Street) side.
Last week, we had someone come into City Hall with a digital camera to record employees at work. There is no law against recording in a public space, but City employees should again feel free to walk away from someone whose motives or actions could be seen as threatening. The guiding principle is to avoid threats to personal safety and seek appropriate help.
I’m sure most of us are frustrated by our inability to either help or remove people who pose a threat to themselves or others. The individual who was at City Hall’s door this morning was recently saved from serious burns when Fire Chief Bradner stopped his car on his way to lunch when he saw the man’s clothing on fire and put it out. This homeless man is clearly unable to care for himself, yet there appears to be no resources available to provide supervised care. He apparently spent a year at a state facility before being discharged as someone who no longer needed supervised treatment. The cost of dealing with his problems has been transferred from the state to the Albany community; and, more importantly, it seems highly likely he will come to harm in the near future.
Living in a country that places a high value on individual freedom means that it is sometimes difficult for government to help people who are unable or unwilling to help themselves. There are facilities in Albany that help homeless people every day, and we spend large sums of money to provide services to people with mental health problems or drug addictions. Unfortunately, we have a relatively small number who can probably only be helped in a full-time care facility.
We will not be solving the homeless problem anytime soon; so in the meantime, please be protective of personal safety and take advantage of emergency services when help is needed.
I sometimes wonder how many Albany residents know what a City Councilor does and how much pay they receive for doing it. I guess many do because so few are willing to serve on the City Council. Why would anyone attend countless evening meetings, listen to seemingly endless verbal harangues, and rarely receive any thanks for less than $250 per month? As someone who once served on a school board, I have an idea of why people volunteer and an appreciation for the difficulty and importance of the work.
Wednesday night, the Council listened to a 25-minute appeal of an administrative decision to deny an applicant a permit to hold an event in one of our parks. The applicant spent most of his time lecturing and criticizing the Council, rather than informing them about why he thought the event should be allowed. Our Mayor was far more gracious and tolerant than I would have been in letting the person express himself, and I think her approach was the right one. Despite having to listen to what I believe was disrespectful speech, the appeal was concluded with the Council’s decision to uphold the denial with no major disruption of the Council’s business. I really don’t understand why people feel the need to be offensive when trying to make a point. I’m more inclined to consider someone else’s point of view when they show at least minimal respect for mine.
Too often, people show up at meetings angry rather than focused on learning the facts and finding solutions. Councils are almost always reluctant to antagonize residents if there are alternatives that protect the public interest. There is a great deal of current discussion about how divided opinions are in our country today, but I recall far too many meetings filled with angry people over too many years to believe there has been much of a change. I once received death threats as a school board member when we considered changing bus boundaries at the high school. I can also recall a very angry mob confronting three nervous-looking Lane County Commissioners in Lowell, Oregon, over 30 years ago when the Commission was thinking about locating a prison work camp in the area.
I believe I have attended more than 2,000 evening meetings during my lifetime, and I’m fairly certain that number exceeds the sanity quota. My wife accused me of being an angry old man in so many words a few days ago, and my only defense is that my reserves of patience and the milk of human kindness have been exhausted by a few too many public meetings. I am consequently very grateful for the work of our Councilors who willingly give up the easy moments of their lives to take on the challenges of making a community work.
Albany will soon have a new city manager following the City Council’s decision to offer the job to Peter Troedsson earlier this week. Peter is currently the Deputy City Manager of Bothell, Washington; but most of his professional experience was earned as a career Coast Guard officer. I can testify from my own knowledge of the military that the demands of commanding a base or a ship are not unlike managing a city. Fortunately, no one ever asked me to pilot a helicopter.
Details like when Peter will start remain to be settled, but I’m confident an agreement will be concluded quickly; and he will be able to start here before I leave. I believe the City will benefit from Peter’s experience, personality, and energy as he starts the new job. We have a number of mutual friends who have confirmed my opinion that we are fortunate to have Peter as our new city manager.
All good managers recognize their dependence on fellow employees to accomplish anything in a city of our size. Peter is fortunate to be joining an organization with outstanding people who welcome challenges. Like every city, we have no shortage of problems to be solved and opportunities to be explored. Current projects such as major software conversions, new police and fire facilities, downtown renovation, and the carousel were all partnerships that required contributions from many sources. Addressing homelessness, improving streets, and resolving wastewater treatment issues while delivering high-quality services every day remain as challenges for the immediate future.
Before interviewing with the City Council, Peter called me and asked what I thought the greatest challenge facing the new city manager would be. I think I answered (it was a couple of months ago) that replacing the many senior employees who either have or will be retired may be the hardest thing he will have to do. We are losing literally hundreds of years of experience in key positions before long. These changes also represent a chance for Peter to look at new ways to organize and add fresh perspective to the City.
We have a number of new employees joining the City staff, and I think that number will grow in the near future. I like to think the city manager is an important part of the organization, but I also believe every person we hire will make a big difference in the quality of services we provide to the people who pay our salaries. I know Peter will be someone who provides the leadership all employees will need to be successful in their jobs. I’m equally confident Peter will receive the support he needs to effectively manage the organization.