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Town Council to Discuss Annual Goals. Here Are Our Suggestions

At its January 23 meeting, the Moraga Town Council will discuss its annual goals and priorities. If you have any ideas, you can attend the council meeting or email in advance to Marty McInturf, Town Clerk, at

Here are our suggestions:

Restoring transparency and trust to Council decision-making. The past couple of years, and in particular since its declaration of fiscal emergency, have resulted in eroded trust and confidence in town governance. There are myriad reasons this is the case, including examples such as the town providing far less information on its "closed sessions" than neighboring cities (and stating that no reportable actions or decisions are made, when they clearly are) and with "back room deals" involving the Hacienda and Rheem Theater. A good place to begin would include more transparent reporting on closed sessions, restoring descriptive information in financial statements and accounts payable claims (instead of the ENIGMA-style coding of legal fees), and ensuring that volunteer citizens and associated committees reflect actual skillsets required and not the cronyism that took hold during the past few years.

Exploration of shared services with neighboring cities (Orinda and Lafayette) to avoid/eliminate/reduce duplicate efforts and expenses.

A Public Works Oversight Committee should be formed to ensure town priorities, good decision-making and performance expectations are duly considered and addressed. The town's capital expenses are nearly equal to its operating budget, with the vast majority spent by Public Works. Public Works' decision-making and on-time, on-budget performance has been the topic of significant discussion by laypeople and by local professional engineers and project managers (the Canyon Road Bridge being a prime example).

Develop and implement a legitimate, objective, quantitative performance measure/management system that sets actual objectives for departments and functions (time, cost, quality, productivity, on-budget/on-time). You can't improve what you don't measure.

Improved timekeeping and project/task-specific measures to accurately understand where and how people spend their time. Between the fiscal emergency and storm drain tax fiasco, it was virtually impossible to determine how town employees were spending their time in order to (re)confirm priorities and eliminate waste (i.e. processes that can be streamlined). Instead, the then-Mayor could only provide vague assurances that “they work so hard” and nearly $250,000 in existing storm-drain tax money (more than 2 full-time employees) was almost entirely unaccounted for based on official EPA reporting. This isn't the only instance of budgeted revenue sources and line-items finding their way to alternative activities or misstating reality, as the Director of Public Works' compensation has a large component allocated to the Hacienda.

A wholesale review and re-bidding of Legal Services. The town spends the equivalent of two good, full-time attorneys on legal fees with a firm that has represented it for two decades. That alone begs for a revisiting of vendors, but the more concerning part for residents should be the law firm's knowing, active participation in unauthorized negotiations on the Rheem Theater that exceeded $35,000 in legal fees. The firm hasn't been particularly effective providing the town with proactive counsel, either: employment agreements do not reflect industry best practices and the town's sign ordinance is unconstitutional and has been for several years following a major US Supreme Court ruling. More than one resident has observed that the town's law firm appears more interested in advocating the absolute bare minimum and lowest possible bar for disclosure to residents rather than encouraging the town to do what is right. Residents deserve better for the money being spent.

Modify the structure or conduct of the Audit and Finance Committee. The past few years, including those leading up to and concurrent with the declared fiscal emergency, made clear that this committee as structured or conducted lacks teeth. Precious few questions are asked about key assumptions and virtually none about over-budget line items and proposed mitigation plans. We attribute some of this to the personalities of councilmembers who previously sat on the committee with its independent members, and it may be that different councilmembers will allow the committee to do its actual job. Nonetheless, it would be prudent for the Council to specifically state that an independent committee chair run the meetings and to similarly prohibit individual councilmembers from wresting control of these meetings.

Work on an emergency evacuation plan with Orinda and Lafayette, along with transportation outreach to those cities to improve traffic flow in and out of Moraga.

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