(From top left) Herndon Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila, Councilmember Jasbinder Singh, Town Attorney Lesa Yeatts, Councilmember Naila Alam, (From bottom left) Councilmember Pradip Dhakal, Councilmember Sean Regan, Mayor Sheila Olem, and Councilmember Signe Friedrichs.
Photo by Mercia Hobson.
Jolted by an escalating trend of interruptions and statements by Town of Herndon Councilmembers, most recently at the Council Discussion of Strategic Initiatives on February 9, Mayor Sheila Olem intervened. At the start of the Feb. 16 Work Session, Olem rephrased the Town Ordinance. She requested all councilmembers observe meeting decorum and refrain "from threatening, intimidating, language attacks concerning the character and motives of other members of the council, town staff or the public."
The meeting progressed according to the agenda, reaching the final portion reserved for the Roundtable. This is where councilmembers voice comments on matters of importance to them. Vice Mayor Olem opened the floor first to Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila. "I'll defer to my councilmembers," the vice mayor said. Councilmembers Naila Alam, Sean Regan, and Jasbinder Singh declined to comment. Councilmember Pradip Dhakal said they had received many comments about the Town Council Discussion of Strategic Initiatives held on Feb. 9. Saying he wanted to clear the confusion from his perspective, Dhakal said,"We're just talking about the what and why…What is feasible to implement, what is not feasible to implement. (It) doesn't mean we've approved anything yet."
COUNCILMEMBER Signe Friedrichs also commented. She addressed councilmember behavior and rhetoric head-on. Friedrichs said it came to her attention that staff had "very poor morale right now," following recent staff meetings where some councilmembers said things about Town employees that they shouldn't have.
"They were very hurtful things," Friedrichs said. "Some staff, some managers in the Town, have advised their staff not to watch our meetings because they are so bad for staff morale…I do not want to be on a Council that doesn't care for the morale of its staff and that doesn't treat them professionally, kindly and openly."
According to Friedrichs, the staff is constrained in ways councilmembers are not. It is not an equal power relationship. Friedrichs said, "Our staff is unable to contradict us in public. That's their policy." She advised fellow councilmembers not to stand in front of the public and tell things that worry them. Instead, talk to the Town Manager. "Reckless and conspiratorial statements about our staff make them feel helpless and hopeless... They undermine our Town as a whole."
Friedrichs stressed that the Town had educated staff, from its talented Manager to amazing Attorney to the Police Chief known nationwide for her progressive approach and dedication to equitable policing. "It is really important that we treat our staff in a way that we would want to be treated and that we're kind to them because they have no protection against us," she said.
THE DAY AFTER the meeting, Vice Mayor del Aguila said, "What Councilmember Friedrichs said is fine, but I would rather focus on taking care of the Town, the shared responsibility that we've been granted and focused on long-term initiatives… Fact is, where's there's chaos, there's a concern….In all this other stuff, I just wish people would stay away from the personal. I don't think we have time for that, and I don't think the voters want us to go there."