ORINDA -- A suggestion to revise a policy on correspondence between city council members, city staff and the public has raised concerns among residents upset over an e-mail controversy involving Orinda's newly elected mayor.
Members of the community group Orinda Watch are wary of what might happen Tuesday, when city staff is expected to ask the council to consider deleting "outdated" written policy on written communication, including e-mail.
Staffers suggest replacing the outdated policy with a placeholder, the designation "Reserved." They also say officials could direct staff to return early next year to review the council's entire Policies and Procedures Manual and identify other amendments "which might" include replacement language for the guidelines.
That uncertainty bothers Orinda Watch member and former planning Commissioner Chris Kniel.
"You just don't eliminate a key policy and procedure ... and say maybe (you're) going to replace it," Kniel said. "It makes no sense whatsoever."
City staffers say the existing rules don't reflect the city's current practices. They also argue an existing guideline may imply that officials can use their personal e-mail addresses to correspond about city business. Current city policy not in the council manual requires council members use their city e-mail addresses for all e-mails relating to city business.
But that's not what happened in March, when then-Vice Mayor Sue Severson used her personal e-mail address to correspond with a developer and former city task force member about plans for the city's downtown. In the e-mails, Severson related a conversation she'd had with the planning commission chairman about a proposed downtown preschool project.
Severson also assessed other planning commissioners' stances on the project, and suggested the developer discuss the project with two new commissioners as open meeting laws prevented her from doing so. That correspondence was obtained by residents through the Public Records Act.
City Manager Janet Keeter said deleting the current policy will give the public and council a chance to "publicly" consider the issue of council correspondence. The city will also comply with state open meeting laws and the Public Records Act while the policy is revised, she said.
Meanwhile, using city e-mail addresses for city-related communication is not part of the council's manual. "The council may decide to add such a rule" to the manual, Keeter said.
Councilwoman Victoria Smith said she is surprised that policy isn't already in the council manual. The council's communication policy hasn't been updated since its 2006 adoption, though the manual has been updated.
Smith also indicated she's not ready to change existing guidelines without a replacement.
"They may be outdated, but I would be most interested in leaving things in place and looking at the best way to make these current and workable with staff and council members," she said.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Orinda Library auditorium.