Establishing “very clear expectations” and giving city employees “flexibility and latitude within which to accomplish those expectations” was how the latest member of the South Pasadena City Council, Diana Mahmud, summed up her response to a question about her leadership style in a candidates forum hosted by the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce shortly before the Nov. 5 general municipal elections.
If Mahmud’s response at the time set her apart from the leadership styles of other contestants, it also gave voters an arguably valuable glimpse into her motivations for running for the city council, where she will officially occupy a seat today, Wednesday, Dec. 4. Over the many years that she has watched the city council from the outside, she told South Pasadena Patch during a pre-election interview, “I’ve gotten frustrated by the way I’ve seen certain things being handled and I know that if I were in the city council I would pay better attention.”
Mahmud is the eighth woman since the 1940s to represent South Pas on its city council, according to city records that, prior to the 1940s, identify council members only by the initials of their names.
A retired lawyer who served as a criminal prosecutor as well as a managing attorney for large public works projects, Mahmud has substantive experience in contracting and procurement—two areas that she says she’ll be watching closely while on the city council.
In a recent interview with Patch, Mahmud outlined some of her early goals as a member of the city council. Excerpts:
South Pasadena Patch: Are you relieved that the elections and some of the mudslinging that went with the campaign are behind you?
Diana Mahmud: Whenever you’re in the public eye there are going to be people who disagree with you or misunderstand positions that you’ve taken. It’s just a fact of life, and I’ve seen it with other council members. I think it’s unrealistic to expect that everybody in town will expect I’m wonderful.
Patch: What would you like to do on the city council early on?
Mahmud: Personally, I would like to shake things up. In the many years that I have worked in government I’ve never seen public meetings where the closed session preceded the open session. And I’m going to suggest to my fellow city council members that the open session be held before the closed session because I think that accomplishes two things: It’s far more efficient, because you need staff to stick around to address certain closed session items typically. And to that extent, it becomes less inconvenient for staff if you schedule the closed session to follow the open session, because the open session covers a wider variety of topics for which you need more staff to stick around.
Also, if city council knows that it’s got the closed session meeting following the open session, I think it might just naturally help to make the discussion more efficient. Right now, the discussions tend to become quite extended, and I think a rescheduling of the sessions would serve as a natural incentive to handle things in the open session more efficiently. And finally, I think [the reordering of sessions] will make them more accessible to the community. Most of our residents need to get up and go to work the next morning. For example the [Nov. 6] meeting didn’t have that many items on the agenda and yet it didn’t end until 11 o’clock.
Patch: That’s right—it ended at 10:59 p.m.
Mahmud: So I would suggest that the open session start at 6:30 p.m. And to the extent that there is a closed session that it be scheduled to follow the open session to provide for greater visibility and greater opportunity for our residents to participate or at least to watch our city council meetings.
Another thing that I feel very strongly about is comments. After being limited many, many times to three minutes of public comments myself, I feel strongly that city council members should limit their own comments to three minutes—or move city council members’ comments to the end of the agenda. Right now, you have some of the comments go on for five minutes apiece. And if you have five council members taking five minutes apiece, that’s a half hour just on that one item. Even if each council member limits their comment to three minutes, that’s still a minimum of 15 minutes. We need to get to the business of the meeting much faster in order to sustain our residents’ interest in following what’s going on.
Patch: Can that done by amending the bylaws? The neighborhood councils of Los Angeles, to offer a comparison, don’t have a limit on the amount of time a council member can speak.
Mahmud: It’s simply policy—I don’t think it’s anything other than a policy. I believe it’s something that just takes the majority of council members to approve. I also believe that the city council [once] used to hear council member comments at the end of their regular agenda. And so I hope to propose to my fellow city council members to strictly limit our comments to three minutes, and to have anything beyond three minutes be heard at the end of the regular agenda.
Patch: Any ideas on what you hope to bring to the city council during its first meeting with you on board?
Mahmud: I definitely have some areas of concern. And I don’t think it should come as a surprise that I am keenly interested in seeing what we can do to accelerate the pace at which we can undertake the repairs of our streets and sidewalks. Also, I’m very concerned about our ability to respond to the draft EIR on the 710 extension when that is issued in the spring. I think it’s very important to make sure that we do the legwork now and have the appropriate experts lined up to provide comments in their respective fields of expertise. As well, we need to make sure that we have a cost-sharing agreement with the other cities that have adopted a resolution expressing opposition to a 710 tunnel. So, at the outset, those areas will be my primary focus.
And another area will be learning more about how the city conducts its contracting and procurement—to see if there’s any efficiency improvements that I think I can recommend after having actively worked in this area for decades.
Patch: I get the impression that you’re going to be something of a Margaret Thatcher on the city council. Do you think you'll be seen as South Pasadena's Iron Lady?
Mahmud: [Laughs]. I don’t think I’m a Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand, I don’t think people see me as a pushover either.