By Ted AYALA
Amidst the furor in the races for the GUSD school board and city council, the race for the city clerk’s office might be overlooked by some voters. In the aforementioned races, the purpose of the positions up for grabs is clear to voters. The duties of the city clerk’s office, on the other hand, might seem more obscure. The face of a member of the city council is not merely that of a politician, but of political process and policy-making in action. Very public, too, is the duty of the city clerk, though perhaps not as glamorous as that of a city councilmember.
In effect, the city clerk is the liaison between a city government and its citizens, the steward of a city’s public records. It’s the city clerk who helps keep the operations of the city government transparent. To that effect, he or she acts as the parliamentarian in city council meetings, ensuring that the council complies with the 1952 Brown Act, which gave the public the right to attend and participate in meetings of local government entities.
And every two years, the city clerk has another vital duty: ensuring that municipal elections are run smoothly and fairly.
“Our democracy relies on that process,” said incumbent City Clerk Ardashes “Ardy” Kassakhian. “A transparent process is crucial.”
But Kassakhian’s challenger, Stephanie Landregan, isn’t convinced that the incumbent has done all that is necessary to comply with that ideal.
“He has done good things,” she said of her opponent. “But his focus isn’t what we need. He ought to deal with [his job] more seriously.”
Among other things, Landregan has accused the incumbent of being slow or failing to act altogether on the recommendations made by the audits that have followed each election – an allegation that Kassakhian strongly disagrees with.
“The three audits were addressed in piecemeal fashion because they could not be implemented for practical reasons,” he said. “For instance, when the city auditor recommended that we put the elections operations somewhere other than in the city clerk’s office, it was not feasible. After much consternation, we finally agreed to place [the operations] in the police department, but traditionally we did not want to have elections associated with the police.”
Another allegation is that Kassakhian has spent too much time recruiting student volunteers to work the city polls instead of adults.
“In fact, we have recruited a team of over 20 city employees who undergo the same training the poll workers do,” answered Kassakhian. “They’re assembled by Yasmin Beers and include multilingual staff. But [Landregan] ignores that.”
Kassakhian also stated that the vote tallying for the 2011 election was the fastest in the city’s history, as well as being one that is now being studied and serving as models for other cities, most notably Burbank.
The incumbent also touted his ability to streamline information and feedback for the election into one website: www.glendalevotes.org.
“It’s one of the most popular websites in the city,” he said. “Before we set up the site, it was ridiculously cumbersome for a citizen to look up information about the forthcoming elections. Now they have the information at their disposal through an easy to access site.”
It’s this kind of tech-savvy that Kassakhian stands by as the accomplishment he is most proud of.
“It was about changing the culture at city hall,” he said. “When I was first elected to this position in 2005, it wasn’t easy to access information about the city or its meetings. I wanted to change that.”
To that end, Kassakhian spearheaded initiatives that allowed all meetings of the city’s governing bodies to be viewed not only through GTV-6, but available for streaming online.
“Our model is being replicated everywhere else,” he said. “When we brought on Granicus to stream our meetings, GUSD decided to follow our example. So did Burbank. Other cities wanted to know how we did it. Excellence attracts excellence.”
His experience in the position, going into his eighth year in 2013, is also highlighted by Kassakhian as a positive attribute.
Landregan, on the other hand, isn’t fazed by her opponent’s claims that she is inexperienced.
She touts her experience working as a director of Landscape Architecture at UCLA, as well as her volunteer positions with the city, as proof that she is capable of assuming the job.
“I’ve been appointed to these positions by [Councilmember] Dave Weaver, Bob Yousefian, and Laura Friedman, among others,” she said. “I think I’ve served my community admirably. My expertise here and elsewhere has been invaluable.”
Kassakhian is confident that the voters will judge him on his record as city clerk.
“We’re doing these things for all the right reasons,” he said. “It’s about moving the city forward – not for me, but for everyone. I want people to continue having faith in their government.”