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Nearly Three Months Ago, Gov. Newsom Order Said COVID-19 Impacted Council Meetings Had To Let Public Address Council Telephonically Or Otherwise Electronically. Long Beach Mayor/Council Didn't Let Public Do So In Ways Public Could Hear What Public Said. LB City Att'y Office Says That Was OK.


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(June 12, 2020, 12:05 p.m.) -- On March 17, 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom's issued Executive Order N-29-20 allowing legislative bodies (like City Councils) to waive certain requirements of the Brown (open meetings) Act if the legislative body "allows members of the public to observe and address the meeting telephonically or otherwise electronically."

But for all of its teleconferenced meetings from March 17 through June 9, LB's Mayor and City Council didn't allow public testimony by telephonic or other electronic means that the public could hear (and the press could report.)

In contrast, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors [after editorial criticism by the Los Angeles Times] added telephone connections for public testimony. The Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education read aloud emailed public comments on agendized and non-agendized items.

However the Long Beach City Council limited public testimony to emailed comments submitted to the City Clerk (not visible or read aloud at Council meetings) and "e-comments" (shown to Councilmembers but not read aloud at the Council meeting and not visible publicly until after Council meetings.) During this period, neither Mayor Robert Garcia nor any Council incumbents publicly urged inclusion of telephonic public testimony or directed the City Clerk to read emailed comments or e-comments aloud.

In response to a request from LBREPORT.com (June 12) on the matter, City Attorney Charles Parkin didn't cite any electronic or technical reasons preventing prior telephonic public testimony but said the Mayor/Council's actions complied with the Governor's Order.

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[City Att'y Parkin June 12 emailed text] As you are aware, Executive Order N-29-20 relaxed some requirements of the Brown Act for public meetings during the COVID-19 public health crisis by allowing for teleconference meetings when complying with certain requirements. Public meetings must be made accessible to the public telephonically or through other electronic means, and the public must have the ability to offer public comment telephonically or through other electronic means. The notice for the meetings has to include the means by which the public could observe the meeting and provide public comment.

The City has complied with the above-referenced Order during the timeframe you have provided for City Council meetings. Specifically, the City makes its City Council and other public meetings available for observation via telephone and/or video, and has provided the public an opportunity to submit public comment through other electronic means. The public may provide eComment on specific agenda items. These comments are provided to the Councilmembers and other staff. Further, the public has the option to provide written comments by email during the meeting. The means for electronic public comment have been noticed on every City Council agenda.

After further evaluation, the City has determined it will now allow telephonic comment, which is also in compliance with the March 17th Order.

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In a June 8 release, the City Clerk issued a release indicating that twenty persons would be allowed to comment on Council agenda items by telephone starting at the June 16 City Coucil meeting. "Up to 20 public speakers who sign up to speak will be able to do so live, telephonically. If there are under 10 speakers, they can each speak up to three minutes. After 10 speakers, the time will automatically set at 90 seconds to align with pre-existing council rules. The City Council will continue to adjust and expand public access in the weeks ahead and continue to follow the Governorís recommended public meeting guidelines," the City Clerk release stated, offering no technical reasons why telephonic testimony couldn't have been allowed for nearly two months previously.

Under LB's City Charter, the City Council appoints the City Clerk (subject to a Mayoral veto that 2/3 of the Council can override) and the Clerk serves at the Council's pleasure. This presumably meaning the March 17-June 9 Council meeting practices, preventing audible public testimony, reflected and carried out the wishes of Mayor Garcia and the Cituy Council.

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No public telephonic or audible testimony was allowed at the June 9 Council meeting, which included a "Framework for Reconciliation" (agendized by Councilmembers Richardson, Pearce, Austin and Andrews) that included a provision paralleling verbiage used by advocacy groups that support defunding (reducing) police spending. LBREPORT.com coverage here and here

Among previous Council meeting voted actions without telephonic public testimony:

  • On May 5, the Council voted 9-0 to approve a $2.1 million "loan' to the privately-run non-profit operator of LB's Aquarium to cover possible shortfalls in sums payable to the City in October 2020. The Council could have, but didn't, use the opportunity to require the Aquarium operator to let the public and press attend meetings of its decision-making governing board. The Aquarium operator's latest federal non-profit tax return indicates its top executives were paid six figure salaries in 2018. (LBREPORT.com coverage here.)

  • On May 19, the Council -- in 62 seconds with no discussion -- voted to give its privatized Civic Center operator up to an additional year to pay $7,3 million to the City in view of the COVID-19 economic atmosphere disadvantageous to the operator's private development plans of the Civic Center's "midblock parcel":(where the former City Hall stands.) The Council didn't seek any reduction in the annual "service fee" payable by the City to the Civic Center operator [believed to have reached $17 million annually] despite multi-million dollar COVID-19 budget shortfalls faced by LB taxpayers. (LBREPORT.com coverage here.
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