By Lois Henry
Bakersfield City Councilman Terry Maxwell's numerous and often extremely detailed questions regarding the widening of 24th Street haven't been free, nor cheap.
The money part of this tale is interesting. But I think it leads to a larger issue at the city that has more to do with personalities, power and trust. But let's come back to that.
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City staffers estimate that responding to some of Maxwell's questions has cost around $50,000, give or take. And that's just from the Jan. 22 city council meeting to the Feb. 12 meeting.
Why would the cost of a council member's questions come up at all?
Mostly because I asked.
According to the city, it cost $16,869 to hire Parsons Corp. to redo a report Maxwell had requested on creating one-way streets downtown. Then another $22,000 to $39,000 for city staffers to do analysis and prepare responses to broader 24th-Street-related-questions from Maxwell.
Again, that only looks at the time period of Jan. 22 to Feb. 12. Maxwell made plenty of other referrals before then. He's asked a lot of highly technical questions, so $100,000 is probably closer to the actual figure, I was told by staffers.
Yes, that's a lot of money.
However, getting answers out of government doesn't always come cheap, or easy. Believe me, I live it every day.
I don't begrudge the expense if Maxwell earnestly believed he wasn't getting all the answers he felt he and his constituents deserved.
It's his job to ask questions.
The real elephant in the room, I think, is why Maxwell felt he had to ask so many questions.
You could chalk it up to the fact that opposing the 24th Street widening was a major campaign platform for Maxwell.
Or, as Maxwell told me, he simply didn't trust the answers he was getting from staff.
More specifically from City Manager Alan Tandy.
"Well, he is the top guy," Maxwell said.
He stopped short of saying anyone on staff has lied, but Maxwell did not shy away from saying he'd been given "partial answers" and "fabrications."
"It's not the staff. We have a wonderful staff and I think they work hard," he said. "It's all about leadership."
I asked Tandy for a response.
He didn't speak to me on the phone (sigh, how many years has it been?) but did answer by email.
"I have been in Bakersfield for over twenty one years and have served 25 different Council members," he wrote. "You have my permission and encouragement to call any or all of them and ask if the information that I provide to the Council is fair, accurate, and comprehensive."
It seems Tandy and Maxwell have differing ideas of what is fair, accurate and comprehensive.
For example, Maxwell says he's been told by staff that the city can't build a street less than 90 feet in width and that you can't have a traffic lane end as a turn lane; it has to be tapered. Yet, he sees examples of both supposed no-nos all over the city.
"They (staff) pull out the manual when it suits them," he said.
And then there's the one-way street report.
Maxwell had asked that Public Works Director Raul Rojas to deliver a report at the Jan. 22 meeting about what would be involved in changing several two-way streets to one-way in the downtown area.
Rojas' report was short.
He said it would be expensive to do a study, the Bakersfield Fire Department disliked the idea, the city didn't believe business owners along the potentially affected streets would support it and, so, city staff recommended not pursuing the idea further.
Maxwell was disappointed, and he made a motion to have the report redone -- and the other council members, except Bob Smith, agreed. That's when the city hired Parsons to do a report at a cost of nearly $17,000.
Tandy's point of view was that with all those negatives, staff tried to handle the issue as cheaply as possible.
Maxwell's point of view was that staffers glossed it over.
The Parsons report was presented at the Feb. 12 meeting. It had several new maps but gave essentially the same information Rojas had delivered at the Jan. 22 meeting. It was received and filed with no further action.
"If staff had told me they intended to spend that kind of money I would have said I believe we already have people who work for the city, traffic engineers, who could put the maps together and do a good report," Maxwell said. "If it had been done right the first time, it wouldn't have cost $17,000."
The bigger question for Maxwell was why staff was tracking the cost of his referrals and not, say, what it cost to research the human life ordinance, which dragged on for months.
"Why am I being singled out?" he wondered.
Tandy said council requests don't usually involve as much time and expense as the one-way street report.
For his part, Maxwell said he won't stop doing his own research and asking lots of questions.
"If you're trusting staff to do all your research, you're not as well informed as you should be," he said.
Tandy, meanwhile, vowed to continue responding to the Council "as I have for the last 21 years."
Yeah, no trust issues there.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail email@example.com