CityWatch, July 13, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 56
RETHINKING LA - Neighborhood Councils learn much from watching LA’s City
Council in action, some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it
For example, when the City Council doesn’t have a quorum of members
present, it can’t start the meeting, setting up a charming situation
where the City Council President twiddles his thumbs while the public
grows restless. It has become tradition, in the City Council and
subsequently in Neighborhood Councils, to fill this non-meeting time
with announcements and public comment.
There are a few problems with this scenario.
first is that the professionals who run the largest city in the most
populated state in the most powerful country in the world can’t show up
on time, leaving the public to watch as the City Council President send
assistants to call Councilmembers, urging them to get to Council
Chambers so that the City Council can convene the meeting.
no greater insult to the public than to run the meetings with a
stopwatch as a tool for controlling the public but as the same time
forgive tardiness from the members. It’s an unacceptable
The second is that the presiding officer has a
charming habit of filling that non-quorum dead-air with announcements,
public comment, and other “noise.” This may fill the dead air, but it
also sends a clear message to those who have shown up to participate in
the people’s business that their public comment won’t even make it to
the traditional deaf ears, it will simply be directed at empty seats.
third problem is that the City Council considers the “noise” that takes
place as they scramble for a quorum as sufficient public comment to
satisfy their Brown Act requirement to provide the public the
opportunity to address the body during the meeting for public comment.
This is where Neighborhood Councils find themselves imitating the City Council and then breaking the law.
City Council and the Neighborhood Councils alike are required to
agendize their meetings with four minimum elements that include public
comment on items not on the agenda.
It’s not optional or
suggested it’s required. When the Council finally reaches quorum is when
the public gets its opportunity to speak, even if they’ve spoken before
the meeting started.
If the Council finds itself pressed for
time, that’s a limitation that is the responsibility of the Council, not
the public and it is not justification for the Council to dispense with
their mandate to provide the public with the opportunity to address the
Council with public comment.
As for that “dead-air” time that
takes place as the Council waits for a quorum, one way to deal with it
would be to spend that time searching for members of the public who
would like to occupy those empty seats. That would be a much better use
of time, it would address the cavalier behavior of the non-quorum
councils, and it would motivate tardy members to show up on time.