Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: SLO seeks wide-ranging input on its budget

As many of you know I’m new to San Luis Obispo, and one of my responsibilities as city manager is to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible about what you expect from the city and how we can best meet those expectations.

In addition to individual conversations, I’ve asked a diverse group of community members, such as residents, business operators, representatives from nonprofit organizations and city employees, to participate in a series of meetings about the city’s budget, offer ideas and share their knowledge.

This group, called the Financial Sustainability Task Force, is just one tool that will allow me to gain critical insight as the city faces tough decisions about our finances. Plus, it’s a very efficient way for me to quickly grasp the issues we face.

It’s important to note there are many, many other opportunities available for you to help educate city leaders and provide comments and suggestions about our direction.

I strongly believe that the more input we receive from those we serve, the better decisions we can make. Specifically, each time a new city budget is developed, there are many ways for you to help us understand your priorities. These include town hall meetings, public hearings, surveys, City Council study sessions and, most importantly, a willingness of the City Council and city staff to meet with you to get ideas and feedback.

There’s been considerable discussion about the format of the meetings and the makeup of the Task Force which I’d like to address.

I’ve received criticism about excluding the media and public from the meetings. I initially felt limiting attendance at these meetings to Task Force members would give the participants more freedom to make honest comments and ask difficult questions without fear that their words would appear in a news story. Plus all of the agendas, notes and information presented during the meetings have been available to the media and public on the city’s website.

Nonetheless, after discussing this issue with the Task Force, the meetings will from now on be open to the public and press. There was agreement that this change will allow the focus to return to creative and constructive thinking about our future financial sustainability.

There’s also been discussion about the Task Force members not being “average residents of San Luis Obispo.” The 30-member Task Force has 21 community members and nine city employees. The community members include a lifelong resident who strongly advocates for neighborhood quality of life, an advocate for senior services who is now the third generation to reside in San Luis Obispo, a small business owner who grew up in San Luis Obispo and is now raising her family in town, a retired San Luis Obispo resident who moved here while still in the work force to enjoy the quality of life San Luis Obispo has to offer, the head of a nonprofit whose growing family lives in San Luis Obispo and a recent Cal Poly graduate trying to make a life after college in San Luis Obispo.

These are highlights of the backgrounds of just a few of the residents volunteering their time as members of the Task Force. These are our neighbors, and I value their contribution. While I highly value residents’ input, there are many other community and business leaders who invest significantly and care very deeply about the future of our city who bring a special perspective on city finances to the Task Force.

I believe it’s important to receive a wide range of viewpoints rather than to limit participation solely to those who live in the city limits. Ultimately, I believe the Task Force is a representative group of community volunteers who make up the fabric of our wonderful community.

Our community’s future is foremost as we continue on this journey to financial sustainability together. I know there will be bumps along the way; however, I’m hopeful that this Task Force along with your input will provide me with the knowledge and perspective I need.

It’s never easy to hear criticism, but I believe flexibility is an essential leadership skill, and I’m willing to change course if it leads to a stronger San Luis Obispo. Many of you have weighed in on this issue already, and I hope that continues. To me, that shows passion and concern about the community we call home.

For more information about the Financial Sustainability Task Force, visit our website at www.slocity.org/taskforce. You can also call me at (805) 781-7114 or e-mail me with your thoughts at klichtig@slocity.org.