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Published February 22, 2017
Shared words of wisdom: How to be an effective city council member
Kymberleigh Korpus, Darlene Gee, Cameron Burks and Ivor Samson heeding the advice of their predecessors. Photo Nick Marnell

Lafayette City Manager Steve Falk organized an orientation in January for the new council members of each Lamorinda municipality, with the new city leaders hearing from many of the public agencies they will work closely with. But the highlight of the four-hour event was the advice given by three former council members on what the city officials can expect in their new roles.
So what do you say to a constituent when you are approached in the grocery store and given a suggestion, asked Falk, the program moderator. "Thank you for your input," said former Moraga council member Mike Metcalf. Victoria Smith, former mayor of Orinda, presented another easy way out. "I had them send an email," she said, while Anne Grodin, ex-Lafayette council member, built a loyal following at Papillon Cafe, and some of her constituents met her there.
Falk asked about the biggest frustration the retired officials experienced, and Grodin stole the show. Her police chief wanted to add a police officer, so she recommended that the council add the officer but because funds were tight the council pressed her for what she could cut out of the budget to get it done. "They voted in the cuts but didn't hire the officer," Grodin said. "They sandbagged me!"
Absorbing this guidance across the room were new council members Ivor Samson and Cameron Burks of Lafayette, Darlene Gee of Orinda and Kymberleigh Korpus of Moraga.
Metcalf offered sound advice on dealing with the municipal staffs. "Always know who packs your parachute," he said, words echoed by Grodin, who said to be sure to respect all employees, but always go through the city manager when you have a question. "And read their staff reports," said Smith.
Finally, Falk asked what the officials learned that they wished they had known at the beginning of their terms. All three agreed that patience was the dearest virtue, with Grodin adding a timesaving suggestion that seems to never be followed. "You don't have to talk on every agenda item," she said.
The parade of public agencies took up the charge, led by East Bay Municipal Utility District board member John Coleman, who proclaimed that, "We're out of the drought. All reservoirs are full. We're in great shape." Proving that good news is never good for all, Central Contra Costa Sanitary District board president Paul Causey said that his agency loved the drought because it got to use more recycled water. "We are out of sight, out of mind. We deal with things nobody wants to deal with," Causey said.
On the solid waste front, RecycleSmart Executive Director Ken Etherington reminded the officials that the cities do not do trash pickup, even though angry residents invariably call the municipal offices over truant trash collectors. He rocked the house with his recycling advice: "Residents can upsize their blue and green containers at no cost," Etherington said.
Transportation agencies updated ridership data and financial information, the library staff pleaded with all present to sign up for library cards and the animal services department boasted of its improved save rate - the percentage of animals taken in that leave the county shelters alive - at 80 percent for 2016.
David Livingston of the county Sheriff's Office presented more sobering numbers: 1,800 inmates reside in county jails at any one time. And as of the end of January, 159 inmates awaited or faced murder charges.
Attendees left the Lafayette Library and Learning Center surely feeling much wiser - and no doubt safer - than they did four hours prior.

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