Unanimous decision sets things right, the way they’ve long been practiced in Antioch
By Allen Payton
Sometimes you CAN fight City Hall and win. Tonight was one example. After two weeks of Antioch residents, community leaders and this newspaper rising up and challenging the practice by Antioch Mayor Wade Harper requiring a consensus of council members to allow any one of them to get an item placed on a future council agenda, the City Council voted 5-0 to eliminate the practice.
After multiple speakers all opposing the practice to various rounds of applause from the audience, and in spite of City Manager Steve Duran’s best efforts to convince the council – although incorrectly and repeatedly – that this was a long held practice, the council decided it was best to let each individual council member represent the people who elected them, properly.
The one thing that Duran did get correct about how things were done by previous mayors, was that they would meet with their city managers to set the meeting agendas. But, no one was ever arguing that. The issue was what was being placed on the agenda and that it was not the mayor’s right to deny a council member to have their item placed on a future agenda.
Before Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock made her motion to eliminate the practice, it appeared things were just going to remain as they have been for the past two years, with Harper and Council Members Mary Rocha and Tony Tiscareno supporting the status quo with a head nod of three council members to agree. But, with Council Member Monica Wilson stating she felt it was best for any council member to be able to place an item on the agenda and Rocha seconding Ogorchock’s motion, it was clear the motion would pass.
To support his argument that this was not a new practice, Harper pointed out one time in the 28 years prior to him being elected Mayor, when a council member didn’t get their proposal placed on the agenda. He said he watched a meeting when then-Council Member Reggie Moore tried to get his idea of a police oversight commission placed on a future agenda. Then-Mayor Don Freitas said he would speak with the city attorney about it. I’m not aware if it was ever placed on the agenda. But, even if it wasn’t that was only one time that happened.
Rocha attempted to support the same argument by reminding people of when she was Mayor, and I was on the council, and we had two council members who were part of a group of citizens that were rather controversial and caused challenges during council meetings. But, as a reminder, that wasn’t because of crazy ideas the two council members wanted or had placed on the agenda, but rather their supporters speaking on almost every agenda item, at every council meeting, causing them to last as late as 3 a.m. That’s why our council changed the public speaking time from five minutes to the current three minutes per person per agenda item.
Besides voting for the motion, the other good thing Harper did was to publicly apologize to Ogorchock for making her feel her proposal, of hiring three more Community Service Officers for the police department, would not be placed on a future agenda, during the January 13th meeting.
It was eye-opening, however, to learn from an additional survey city staff conducted in the past two days, that other cities in Contra Costa County follow the practice of requiring a consensus of council members to get an item placed on a future agenda. I’m just glad Antioch hasn’t followed that practice, except for during the past two years. I agree with Ogorchock who stated said she wanted Antioch to be the leader and let other cities follow us, rather than the other way around, on this matter.
This issue and the minor skirmish that ensued, reminded the city council and staff of whose government this is – ours, we the people – and makes me pleased that representative, responsive government still works in Antioch. It also reminds me of the old saying “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”
So, thank you to the council for taking the right course of action on the issue of getting items on future agendas, tonight.
To our readers and residents of Antioch, the Herald will continue to challenge our elected representatives and hold them accountable, and keep you informed of their actions, both good and bad.
As for the mayor’s idea of having a moment of silence at the beginning of the meeting for prayer or meditation, that didn’t bother me, nor would it have violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. If the U.S. Senate can open with a prayer by the Chaplain of the Senate, surely a moment of silence is acceptable, as well.
I had left the meeting before that discussion, so, I was surprised to learn, later that the council vote 4-1 against the idea, along faith lines with the four Catholic members voting against Harper, the one Protestant member on the council. So, I guess everyone will have to just continue saying their prayers before they show up for council meetings. I just pray all requested items get placed on a future agenda!