By Allen Payton
UPDATED: Saturday, February 7, 2015
At next Tuesday night’s meeting, the Antioch City Council is being asked by staff to make formal the process Mayor Wade Harper has been following to prevent council members from placing items on the agenda for discussion, without the support of two other council members.
This is in response to my recent Payton Perspective editorial, dated January 27, 2015, (which can be viewed here) criticizing the fact that Harper has been acting unilaterally, without council approval in implementing the practice.
As my previous column pointed out, he stated in an email to me on Friday, January 23 that it’s “not required.”
Yet, staff is recommending that the City Council adopt the resolution, to make it a requirement, based on what they claim is a survey they conducted of 25 cities and special district boards throughout the state. In their report, staff says, without providing the details of the survey in the Agenda, under Item 8 (which can be viewed here) – which is also at the end of the meeting, when most residents have either gone home or changed the channel – “The most common response was that it takes a majority of the Council/Board members to request a future agenda item. In a few cases, some agencies require the consensus of only two (2) Council/Board members. A rare few provided for a single Council/Board member to place an item on a future agenda. A couple also provided for the Mayor to have full authority whether or not an item was placed on the agenda.”
What staff also didn’t share is how many of those were cities versus boards, and how many of the cities are General Law versus Charter cities, which operate differently under state law.
I find it interesting that staff didn’t offer the Council, under Agenda Item 8, the choice to completely eliminate the practice, which Harper has been following without approval, and go back to the way it was in Antioch prior to his term as Mayor.
It’s not required
What staff is saying, is that they want the current practice to continue – even though Harper’s been following it without a council vote, in the first place – but to now require a formal motion, second and vote of at least three council members to place an item on the agenda, instead of the recent practice of just the nodding of three heads.
Perhaps staff didn’t read the email from Harper to me, on which he copied City Manager Steve Duran and City Attorney Lynn Nerland, in which he wrote “A consensus is great, but not required.”
Done to save staff time
They say this started – but still don’t say when – to save time, due to the reduction in staff. But, the economic downturn happened in 2008 and the staff cutbacks began in 2009, when Don Freitas was Mayor, and before Harper was even elected to the City Council in 2010.
Prior to Harper being elected Mayor in 2012, the practice in Antioch for at least the prior 28 years, according to previous mayors and council members, with whom I spoke, before and since the publication of my editorial, was that any one council member could request an item be placed on the agenda and that the mayor, in consultation with the city manager, would determine when to place it on the agenda.
So, it appears a reduced city staff handled things, under the normal practice, for three years without any issue. Plus, now they’re back to full time, five days a week, following the elimination of Furlough Fridays, as of January 11, anyway. So, having each council member request agenda items shouldn’t be a problem.
One agenda item meetings
Some Antioch Council meeting agendas have only one or two main items on them, like last meeting, which had one non-Consent Calendar item, which was for approving the lease of copiers for City Hall. Big deal. The meeting was over before 9 p.m. So, there was time and room to discuss at least one more item, such as Ogorchock’s proposal of funding three more Community Service Officers using Measure O funds, to help alleviate the workload of sworn police officers, thus improving their ability to fight crime, which the mayor and all council members were elected to do.
Besides, how do the other council members even know if they think an item proposed by one member is worth discussing or if the public wants it discussed, if it’s not first placed on a council agenda? They’re just going to make an arbitrary decision to not even hear about it? That’s not effectively representing the people who elected them.
One current example is the effort by former Antioch School Board President Joy Motts and other downtown residents to meet with Duran, about their idea for an event center, possibly on the open lot where the lumber yard used to be. So far he has refused to, because he doesn’t have to, since he hasn’t been given direction by council to do so. Yet, how does Duran know, if no council member has been able to even have the idea placed on the agenda for consideration and council direction given him to meet with Motts’ group? I don’t agree with it being placed on that lot, but do agree council should consider it and staff should meet with them, to perhaps find another, better location for it. If that’s how the mayor and city manager treat another community leader – this started while she was in office – what kind of message does that send to the average Antioch resident about having their concerns or ideas heard?
Forces private, closed door meetings, instead
Should the council formalize this policy Tuesday night, they will be forcing any individual, company or group, in order to line up three votes, to have separate meetings with each of the council members, behind closed doors, in private meetings, instead of in public view during a council meeting, to even have their idea, project or proposal heard, in the first place. That’s ridiculous and an unnecessary additional level of bureaucracy to get something done in Antioch.
And we wonder why businesses go to Brentwood, Pittsburg or Oakley, first, before coming to our city?
Again, the result of this practice severely limits the ability of each individual council member from effectively representing the people of Antioch, who elected them individually.
If a council member is asking for some ridiculous item be placed on the agenda for discussion by both the council and the public, then that will reflect poorly on them. If it becomes a repeated offense, then “we the people” whose government it is, will get tired of it and shut that council member down, one way or another.
Possible Brown Act open meeting law violation?
This proposed practice also brings up the question of violating the state’s Brown Act open meeting law, as former Antioch City Councilman Jim Conley pointed out to me. How can the council vote on an item that’s not already on the agenda without violating that law? Isn’t the vote to place an item on a future agenda an actual item on the current meeting agenda, that requires prior notice to the public, at least 48 or 72 hours before? As Conley stated, and I concur, only urgency items can be placed on a current council meeting agenda, which requires the vote of four out of the five council members. The placing of an item on a future agenda is not an urgency item.
Isn’t it ironic?
After speaking with Antioch residents, as well as current and former leaders about this, today (2/7/15) it hit me that what the mayor did by placing this item on the agenda, was to do so without a consensus of council members. Does anyone else remember this agenda item being discussed at the last council meeting to obtain approval of three council members to be placed on a future agenda? I don’t. Harper violated his own practice, one that staff is recommending be continued, which is rather ironic. Furthermore, Harper placed this on the agenda – or was it staff? – but still hasn’t placed Ogorchock’s idea on the agenda, even after he specifically stated a consensus of council members was not required to do so.
How did Items 3-7 get placed on the next agenda?
Another thing I realized, today (2/7/15), is that staff has been able to place whatever they and Harper have wanted to place on the agenda, since he was elected Mayor, without a consensus of council members. Otherwise, how did Items 3-7 also get placed on the next council meeting agenda? That means staff has had more power than any one of their bosses on the city council for the past two-plus years. As has Harper, who, as a separately elected mayor in a General Law city in California, only has three powers that the other council members don’t have, and denying them the opportunity to place items on the agenda isn’t one of them.
Who cares what other cities do?
I don’t care what they do in other cities or on other boards. Although, I would like to see the detailed results of the survey and ask for one of all the other 18 cities in Contra Costa County. Regardless of the results of the staff’s unscientific survey, we want and expect our council members to each properly represent the people, both individually and collectively.
If any of our council members want to abdicate their responsibility and limit their own ability to fully and properly represent the public, and in effect politically emasculate themselves, so be it. Then, I guess those council members who vote for this don’t need to be on the council nor receive the public’s vote when it’s time for their reelection.
The Council should table this agenda item and just tell the mayor, in his own words, it’s “not required” the next time he says they need a consensus of members to place an item on the agenda. If they want to formalize it, then table the item until the choice for eliminating the practice is included, and if they do the council members need to tell the mayor to knock it off and quit preventing them from doing their job and fully representing the people who elected them.
To voice your opinion, either attend Tuesday night’s council meeting, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall, between Second and Third Streets in downtown, and speak during the public comments segment on Agenda Item 8, or email or call the mayor and council members:
Mayor Wade Harper – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel (925) 437-4300
Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock – Email: email@example.com Tel (925) 628-7764
Council Member Mary Rocha – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel (925) 207-7220
Council Member Monica E. Wilson – Email: email@example.com Tel: (925) 628-0749
Council Member Tony G. Tiscareno – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel (925) 234-3639
Also, if you will copy City Clerk Arne Simonsen on your email, then he will provide it to Mayor Harper for it to be read into the record at Tuesday night’s council meeting, if you’re unable to attend. email@example.com.