|(Sept. 11, 2019, 8:05 p.m.) -- At its Sept. 10 meeting, the City Council voted to enact an ordinance that cuts and puts restrictions -- some until recently unprecedented in LB Council proceedings - on the public's ability to speak to City Council agenda items (voted actions that can affect taxes, spending and neighborhood developments/quality of life.)
Any Councilmember(s) could have offered amendments to the draft ordinance on Sept 3 or 10. None did. (Councilwoman Price absent briefly from the Council Chamber on the vote to field an urgent telephone call, previously voted for the ordinance on Sept. 3.)
The new ordinance writes into city law practices that go beyond what LB's current Councilmembers have without objection let Mayor Robert implement for several months. The Council has let Mayor Garcia limit public speakers beyond ten to 90 seconds (instead of three minutes each...but the new ordinance goes further. It writes nto city law a limit of 90 seconds on all public speakers on any agenda items on which more than ten speakers sign up to speak.
The new ordinance limits Councilmembers to five minutes each but doesn't limit their total speaking time, letting them speak more than once (no absolute time limit on Councilmembers parallel to what they've set for the public.)
The new ordinance also implements a procedure unprecedented in LB Council proceedings until a few weeks ago, by preventing the public from speaking at all on a Council agenda item unless he/she submits a speaker-card to the City Clerk before the Mayor calls the item. Although a number of other government bodies require speakers to fill out speaker cards, a complete forfeiture provision effectively eliminating a person's right to speak for any time period to an agenda is unprecedented in LB Council practice [and arguably raises Brown Act issues.]
In addition, the public won't know when an item will be called by the Mayor because another provision of the new ordinance lets the Mayor move agenda items in his "discretion" (another practice Councilmembers have without objection let Mayor Garcia implement for months.)
[Scroll down for further.]
|LBREPORT.com provides audio of the Council testimony by Ms. Cantrell and Ms. Lee. To hear their words, click here.
Taxpayer Diana Lejins and Carlos Ovalle (co-founded and leads grassroots People of Long Beach) independently submitted letters in opposition. Two individuals submitted "E-Comments" on the agenda item: Glennis Dolce and Anne Proffit. Ms. Dolce wrote in part:
Again, you have crossed a line here. Do not minimize public comment by restricting comment time to 90 seconds. ANYTIME. The 90 second rule is unfair to the public. Driving down there, parking, going through security, sitting for hours waiting for the line item you are interested in to come up....and then being given 90 seconds is hardly worth the time and trouble. This protocol is designed to reduce public input.Yet, you drone on and on about wanting to hear from the public. I guess you really don't. That much is clear. Vote for this at your own risk come election time. And we won't buy it if only one or two of you vote against it. Also, get rid of the speaker cards. Unconstitutional. We do not have to identify ourselves. We can line up to speak on an item spontaneously. And we will. You have a chance to change this tonight. Do it!
Ms. Proffit wrote:
Streamlining of city council meetings must go BOTH WAYS. It's time for this council to face the same restrictions as citizens in speaking time. I have no objection to signing up to speak for every single agenda item if that's what you want me to do, and speak my THREE MINUTES as per current rules. It must also reflect that council speak for a maximum of THREE MINUTES with no rebuttals. This is what makes council meetings overlong, not the public's RIGHT TO SPEAK. Take our rights away and we'll punish you at the ballot box.
[LBREPORT.com has learned that E-comments on all agenda items are given in a cluster on all subjects to Councilmembers shortly before their meeting starts but they're not routinely visible to the public until the City Clerk publishes Council meeting minutes online roughly three days after the Council meeting. LBREPORT.com verbally requested and received the Sept. 10 E-Comments from the City Clerk's office.]
The new rules were criticized a month earlier by the Long Beach Reform Coalition, which released a memo quoting Carlos Ovalle of People of Long Beach. "It's almost like they’re saying, 'you guys go ahead and vent, and then we'll carry on with our business,' and that’s not the way it ought to be...They are there for us. Not the other way around. We’re not an inconvenience, but it seems the way they’re doing it that we are just a nuisance for them."
No Councilmembers offered amendments to address the issues raised at the Council podium by Ms. Cantrell and Ms. Lee or in correspondence or "E-Comments." The motion to approve as written was made (without any comment) by Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, seconded by Councilman Daryl Supernaw.
Councilman Supernaw started the process last year by inviting non-elected City Hall management to offer its suggestions to "streamline" Council meetings, which the Council accepted regarding public testimony, but resisted as to some suggested limits on Councilmembers' speaking times.)
From early in the process, Councilman Supernaw signaled his opposition to shorten Council meetings by resuming the Council's previous practice of meeting four times a month. Supernaw argued that resuming four meetings a month wouldn't promote the "efficiency" he's seeking in running Council meetings (but hasn't explained why he believes the two actions are inconsistent.)
The 4-Council-meetings-per-month practice ended as a result of a Council enactred ordinance change in 2003 urged by then-Councilwoman Jackie Kell (5th dist: 1998-2006) who contended it would provide a cost saving. (Critics said at the time it was basically a way for Councilmembers to get two weeks off in a row while entitled to collect the same pay; LBREPORT.com provides "Amnesia File" details below.) In recent proceedings, Councilwoman Stacy Mungo responded to public calls to reinstate four-Council-meetings per month by contending she uses the week off to conduct community meetings.
Although Councilmembers' reduced the public's speaking time, they didn't shorten their own total speaking time. Under the ordinance Councilmembers can speak for five minutes...and allow themselves to do so multiple times.
The draft ordinance text enacted by the Council on Sept. 3 and Sept. 10 can be viewed here.
The changes approved by the Council affect the public's ability to speak on items agendized for Council action as follows:
[as enacted]...C. Public Comment for Agenda Items.
Long Beach residents didn't previously have to sign a card to speak to a Council agenda item. Some legislative bodies (including the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and L.A. County Metro) do require the public to a submit-a-card/sign-up to speak to agenda items, but LB's new ordinance goes further. It imposes a forfeiture of a person's right to speak for any length of time to an agendized Council action unless he/she signs up and submits a speak card before the item is called.
The public can't know when the item will be called because another portion of the Council-adopted ordinance enables the Mayor without Council objection to move agenda items and take them up as he wishes.
The new change would also effectively preclude members of the audience who might not sign up to speak, but decide to speak in response to statements by the public or city staff that deserve rebuttal or correction. (Other speakers could do so only by foregoing portions of their planned testimony that may already be cut to 90 seconds under another "streamlining" rule.)
In response to a question by Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, Mayor Robert Garcia said the Council could always waive its rules and City Attorney Charles Parkin added that the ordinance explicitly provides that a Council majority can waive portions of its rules at that Council meeting on a particular item. Such a waiver would require a Councilmember to make a floor motion and get a second and get a majority Council approval vote and the ordinance would continue to apply unless waived on other items or at other Council meetings.]
[LBREPORT.com is unaware of any instance in which LB's current Council members have made a similar a waiver/suspension motion, received a second and a Council majority has voted to waive/suspend its rules to allow increased public testimony on any Council item.]
Councilman Rex Richardson, who voted for the ordinance on Sept. 3 and 10 without proposing any changes, indicated before his Sept. 10 vote that he considers the ordinance a test and might (no commitment) consider changes in the future.
For years, including a 1999 ordinance, LB Councilmembers had to hold at least one Council meeting per year in Council districts on the fourth Tuesday of each specified month. (You can see the former ordinance at this link.)
But on April 8, 2003, then-5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell agendized an item requesting that the City Council "immediately defer having any off site City Council meetings until such time as there is a balanced budget and that the cost of having such meetings is offset by the inherent benefit to the communities represented" and simultaneously agendized an item that the Council immediately cancel the last regularly scheduled meeting of each month." In other words, the Council wouldn't have to meet anywhere -- in a Council district or at City Hall (effectively giving Councilmembers a week off each month.)
The ordinance changes were enacted in the subsequent two weeks. That ended four Council meetings per month...and no Councilmember(s) have proposed resuming the practice either at City Hall or in Council districts.
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