Council Directs City Att'y To Draft Ordinance Containing Three Provisions That -- If Not Removed In Two Upcoming Council Votes -- Would Become Near-Permanent Reduction In Public's Ability To Speak On Agendized Council Actions...While Councilmembers Balk/Resist "Streamlining" Their Meetings By Limiting Their Own Speaking Time
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(May 15, 2019, 8:35 a.m.) -- In what would become a near permanent reduction in the public's ability to to speak at LB City Council meetings on neighborhood and taxpayer impacting agenda items, LB Councilmembers voted 9-0 (motion by Supernaw, seconded by Austin) on May 14 to direct the City Attorney to draft a proposed ordinance (described by proponents as "streamlining" Council meetings to make them "more efficient") containing three items which -- if not removed in two upcoming Council enactment votes -- would significantly reduce the public's ability to be heard at Council meetings.
At the same time, Councilmembers balked/resisted "streamlining" their meetings by putting limits on their own speaking time.
If not removed when the draft ordinance returns in the coming weeks for two Council enacting votes, the three major reductions in the public's rights would become LB Municipal Code law that the current and future Councils could only waive on a 2/3 vote on individual items.
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1. Limit members of the public to 90 seconds per speaker for or against proposed Council actions after ten speakers have spoken for three minutes each. The ordinance change would put into city law for all future items the practice used by Mayor Garcia on actions that draw large crowds (issues that the public considers most important.) These could include (but aren't limited to) neighborhood-impacting proposed developments, land use/zoning changes, Environmental Impact Reports and City Hall-sought tax increases/ballot measures.
2. Encourage city staff to include more actions on the Council's "consent calendar," the weekly list of actions that receive no Council discussion unless a Councilmember(s) requests it. These are currently limited to actions that are usually (although not always) routine but would now be expanded to broadly include "grant applications, contracts, and receive and file reports." This would reduce the ability of the public to object to actions that appear to be routine but advance costly or otherwise impactful policies because the Council's current rules already limit the public to speak for only three minutes maximum on ALL of the consent calendar items combined. This could be doubly-impactful when cCombined with number 1 above because if more than ten speakers wish to speak to ALL items on the expanded weekly consent calendar, they would have only 90 seconds to do so. In addition, putting more items on the "consent calendar" would let Councilmembers avoid separately recorded votes on items that might be cited against them in future elections. Under an ordinance change adopted under Mayor Foster, a former Council only allows Councilmembers (not the public) to remove items from the consent calendar for separate consideration and recorded votes.
3. Encourage the use of Council Committees (three Councilmembers with as few as two present to act) to hear items expected to draw large crowds (highly impactful items) and -- if the two or three Councilmembers don't change what's proposed -- prevent the public from speaking to the item for more than 60 or 90 seconds (unclear which) when it returns to the full Council for enactment. This would prevent the public from being heard for more than a minute or so by a Council majority (and up to six or seven Councilmembers) and relegate public testimony to Committees meetings (currently scheduled mainly during working hours when many people can't attend before the 5 p.m. Council meetings.) (The Mayor's chosen chair for the Council's "Budget Oversight Committee," Stacy Mungo, opposed a suggestion by Councilman Richardson to move committee meetings to evenings when the Council doesn't meet, with Mungo contending that it would be easier for her constituents to attend afternoon Committee meetings prior to the start of 5 p.m. Council meetings.) Regardless of whether the Committee chooses to meet in the afternoon or evening, the change would prevent taxpayers/residents from speaking for more than a minute or so on impactful items with often complex consequences if as few as two Councilmembers approve them unchanged and send them for approval to the full Council.
Until the May 14 Council meeting, it wasn't clear what Councilman Supernaw thought of actions limiting public testimony...but it quickly became clear when he made the motion to approve them, seconded by Austin.
The item originated with an October 23, 2018 request by Supernaw for "best practices" to shorten lengthy Council meetings by "streamlining" them to increase "efficiency." On March 1, 2019 city staff sent the Mayor and Councilmembers a memo listing ten recommended actions.
The memo noted that an analysis by the City Clerk's office showed that out of 35 total Council meetings in 2018, only 12 lasted for over five hours...and for those that went over five hours, Public Comment took less time than Council/Staff time.
However during May 14 Council discussion,Councilmembers balked at putting limits on their own speaking time (and not one spoke against the three significant reductions in public testimony.) Public testimony on the May 14 agenda item (three speakers) focused on other Council meeting issues.
At the conclusion of the Council item, Mayor Garcia voiced his support for the draft ordinance changes. A draft recommended ordinance will now return to the Council for two enactment votes in the coming weeks, and which time Councilmembers could amend/tweak/change it (including removal of the three public limiting items cited above.) It will take two additional Council majority votes (where the public can currently be heard unless limited by the Council) to enact ordinance changes.
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