|(August 11, 2019. 1:10 p.m.) -- The public doesn't have a 1st Amendment constitutional right to speak at meetings of legislative bodies it elects. There's no public comment allowed in Congress (House or Senate) or in Sacramento's legislature (Assembly or state Senate.)
The reason the public has some rights to speak at other local legislative bodies, including the Long Beach City Council, is because state lawmakers enacted the Brown (open meetings) Act. It specifies minimal requirements for locally elected bodies statewide AND (very important) provides that the Brown Act itself only sets MINIMUM requirements. It explicitly allows locally elected bodies, like City Councils, to grant their residents more rights than the Brown Act minimums if they so desire. [Allowed by the Brown Act and local bodies to speak, public speakers then have limited First Amendment rights separate from the focus of our comments here.]
In Long Beach, Councils under Mayors O'Neill, Foster and now Garcia have in various ways reduced the public's rights to speak and prompt action at Council meetings. Sometimes stealthfully (erasing the public's powerful former right to agendize items, described here), sometimes more openly (removing the public's right to pull "consent calendar" items for individual discussion and voted action; and [through a dubious administrative edict that we believe raises first amendment issues] forbidding the public's use of the Council Chamber's video display in public testimony [except for parties in hearings.])
To date, no Council incumbent has moved to restore those lost public rights. And now, some LB Council incumbents want to reduce the public's rights still further.
A stealthful Aug. 9 memo at this link, spotted by LBREPORT.com on a City Hall webpage and reported by us on Aug. 10, signaled that Mayor Robert Garcia seeks to impose a number of changes in Council meeting procedures (dubbed "streamlining" by their proponents.) [Aug. 12 update: Assistant City Manager Tom Modica tells LBREPORT.com: "The memo is from the City Manager. I coordinated the effort with the City Manager’s Office, the City Clerk and the City Attorney’s Office." [end Aug. 11 update] The memo speaks for itself. However one of its sections, paragraph 11, would constitute a major change in the public's right to address LB City Council agenda items.
...11. Members of the community will be asked to identify the items for which they will provide public comment. They will submit their interest to speak on an item to the City Clerk and can do so at any time up until the Mayor has requested the item be heard for discussion. At that time, the speakers list will be closed and all speakers who have signed up will be called to speak at the appropriate time. Technology solutions are currently be pursued and will not be available in the short term. In the interim, speakers will submit a card to the City Clerk for each item they intend to speak to, who will submit the cards to the Mayor when each item is read.
Imposing a "sign up or shut up" rule would constitute an unprecedented change for Long Beach City Council meetings. In our view, it would require an ordinance amendment to LB's Municipal Code. Ordinance amendments require two affirmative majority Council enactment votes. Those two Council votes would give the public an opportunity to push back on the proposed change.
For the record: the Council voted on May 14 (motion by Supernaw) only to "request the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance [emphasis added] amending the Long Beach Municipal Code governing the City Council meetings according to staff recommendations and Council direction."
In contrast, what Mayor Garcia (who has no vote) is attempting to do, in effect, is re-write the ordinance without a Council vote, perhaps hoping that by implementing the change now the public will "get used to it" and more readily accept the change when it returns in ordinance form. (Attempting to link the action to Council meetings in the new "Bob Foster Civic Chambers" is substantively irrelevant.)
As LBREPORT.com reported yesterday, under "Next Steps," the Aug. 9 stealthful memo states:
City staff will bring this item as an ordinance for City Council review and adoption. In the interim, it is the Mayor's intent, as Chair, to apply these rules to future City Council meetings in the Bob Foster Civic Chambers, provided there is no objection from the City Council. [emphasis to originating text added by LBREPORT.com]
As LBREPORT.com stated in our Aug. 10 report, we offers no views here on whether this new policy does or doesn't meet minimum state requirements in the Brown (open meetings) Act. However since it not yet LB law, we presume that (under standard Roberts Rules of Order) a City Councilmember(s) can move, and if seconded, prompt a Council vote on whether to overrule the Mayor's attempt to apply the policy on August 13.
In other words, application of this unprecedented restriction in the LB public's right to address their Council meetings on Council agenda items doesn't really depend on Mayor Garcia. It depends on whether a Council majority lets him implement it on August 13, and whether a Council majority thereafter votes to include it in a formal ordinance along with previously discussed "streamlining" measures that Councilmembers choose to apply in their new taxpayer-paid City Hall and its "Bob Foster Civic Chambers."
For now, we presume Mayor Garcia plans to open the Aug. 13 Council meeting by reciting that Councilmembers had received a memo and if there's no Council objection, he'll implement it. At that point, LB residents will learn who among LB's City Council incumbents objects to implementing paragraph 11 of the Aug. 9 memo and at minimum insists on full discussion of the proposed change when it returns in ordinance form for two Council votes at which the public can be heard.
And that may not be the end of it. LB elections are scheduled in Nov. 2019 for a new 1st dist. Councilmember with four Council incumbents seeking reelection in March 2020 in districts 2, 4, 6 and 8. What's happened has made the incumbents' and candidates' positions on the public's right to speak at Council meetings relevant for voters who'll decide whether to elect or re-elect them.
Additional clarifying text added 4:10 p.m. Aug. 11
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