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    Fixing Mayor Foster's Council Plan: Disclosure, Not Delay; Action, Not Obstruction

    (Dec. 7, 2007) -- No, it doesn't increase the time for serious consideration of Council items. Yes, it lets City Hall withhold significant information just as long and with the same fog as today. No, it doesn't make city government substantially more transparent. No, it isn't what Councilman Val Lerch proposed years ago.

    Yes, it would give a bloc of Councilmembers obstructionist power to block discussion of urgent items on which your Councilmember may want action...and on which the Mayor or other Councilmembers or the usual suspects may want inaction.

    On Dec. 11, we urge a principled City Council majority to make changes to a flawed proposal by Mayor Bob Foster that would change the way City Hall makes laws, takes actions, dispenses tax dollars, prioritizes services, conveys benefits and impacts neighborhoods.

    Mayor Foster proposes to require what he calls twelve days "notice" before Councilmembers schedule most items for action on the City Council agenda.

    Except it's not "notice." It's non-notice. It's a continuation of the status quo "mushroom treatment" (keep 'em in the dark and fed manure.)

    It's what The District Weekly's Dave Wielenga accurately calls headline-style which we add that City Hall's headlines are commonly fogged, euphemized and incomplete.

    Consider the recent Nov. 20 masterpiece sliding a noose around taxpayers' necks seeking for up to a quarter million dollars each year from LB's Tidelands (for no legally required reason, subject to future Council rubberstamping) on top of millions the Aquarium eats annually to pay debt it was supposed to pay from its own revenue).

    LB City Hall's idea of "notice": "Recommendation to authorize City Manager to execute an amendment to the Implementation Agreement with Aquarium of the Pacific, a California nonprofit public benefit corporation, providing up to $250,000 in fiscal year 2008 toward capital reinvestment opportunities."

    The Mayor's proposal doesn't ensure disclosure of the underlying facts any sooner than they are now. Councilman Lerch, whose good name the Mayor's office is basically hijacking to sell this cow, is a patient man but ought to be screaming about this. Our recollection is that what he proposed several years ago was a REAL 12 days' notice...with agenda backup material so that he and taxpayers citywide would have an extra week to consider it.

    In contrast, what's been proposed thus far doesn't ensure an additional week with the facts.

    It means taxpayers will get an extra week to spin their wheels, plead for information, endure City Hall voice mail and excuses that the information "isn't available" (until magically the current deadline arrives).

    Rest assured: while taxpayers remain in the dark, City Hall's insiders will know exactly what's going on, giving them the advantage. That's why the additional "notice" is worse than fake; it's elitist and unfair.

    Mayor Foster has tried to veto these arguments verbally (an old debate trick). Providing the underlying information isn't "practical," he simply declares, as if that's a fact (which it isn't) and should end the discussion (which it doesn't).

    We are heartened by the fact that several Councilmembers -- including Councilman Lerch -- said on Dec. 4 they favor including that explanatory material on the 12-day deadline. They are right...because if someone doesn't have the facts for what they're agendizing, it's unprofessional and unbusinesslike to agendize it.

    It's not agenda-worthy without facts to back it up and it's not notice without including those facts. Simply put: show 'em, or fold 'em. This should be one of two deal points for Councilmembers.

    The second deal point requires fixing an insidious part of the proposal that also was NOT part of what Councilman Lerch sought years ago. The Mayor proposes to let a Council majority block prompt action on an agenda item urgently sought by a Councilmember.

    This strikes at the heart of a district Councilmember's ability to take urgent action when it's urgently needed, sometimes to protect residents and businesses in the district, sometimes to protect taxpayers citywide. Yes, there are entrenched interests in Long Beach who would like to stop some Councilmembers from doing such things.

    The five-Councilmember blocking bloc is also a back-handed attack on the balance of power in LB's City Charter in which voters said all Councilmembers are equal, not subordinate to others. What's currently proposed, in effect, would make an individual Councilmember subordinate to his/her colleagues by letting them block urgent action on an item even before it's heard.

    The solution: reduce the proposed five-votes proposed to hear an expedited item to two-Councilmembers. That's consistent with Roberts Rules of Order. Two Councilmembers are sufficient to move an item to a vote...and Councilmembers shouldn't lose that ability when expedited consideration is sought.

    If an item agendized as urgent receives a motion and a second, it should immediately proceed to Council consideration on the merits, not a majority hurdle without hearing the merits.

    And there's another problem with the Mayor's proposed five-vote hurdle: it potentially forces members the public to attend two meetings in order to be heard.

    As proposed by the Mayor, someone wishing to speak on an "expedited" item (presumably rather important) would have to be present ready to speak at the first meeting...but could be told to go home and return a week later if a Council majority votes against hearing the matter. That doesn't encourage public participation; it says "stay home."

    We commend Councilwoman Rae Gabelich for speaking clearly on this, saying forthrightly that the five-vote Council blocking block is a bad idea.

    We are disappointed in Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who complained and fretted but ultimately indicated he'd speak with the City Attorney about the matter. But the City Attorney doesn't make policy; Councilman O'Donnell does. If the Councilman really objects to the five-vote blocking bloc, he can move to change it to two votes...or vote against the Mayor's proposal in its entirety.

    We recommend a third path: we think Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske had the best suggestion of all. She said what's needed is an overall Council examination of its procedures...including rights lost during the O'Neill administration (the public's ability to use audio video equipment and to agendize items).

    The Council should deal with this en banc, as a "Committee of the Whole," meeting publicly as a group to address all of these issues and set things right.

    We urge a motion and a second on Dec. 11 to schedule such a "Committee of the Whole" session on Council procedures and rules, making the Mayor's current proposal its first order of business followed by the public audio/visual and public agendizing issues.

    If that motion fails, we urge substitute motions that will force recorded votes on amendments to the Mayor's proposal that will (1) require an agendizer to provide explanatory ("backup") material 12-days prior to Council action on the item; and (2) reduce to two Councilmembers (instead of the proposed five) the number of Councilmembers needed to hear an item flagged as "expedited" or "urgent."

    Absent inclusion of the two public protective measures, we believe the proposal should be received and filed.

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