Payton Perspective: Antioch Council listens to the public, stops requiring agreement of three to get item on agenda

Unanimous decision sets things right, the way they’ve long been practiced in Antioch

Payton Perspective logoBy 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!

3 Comments to “Payton Perspective: Antioch Council listens to the public, stops requiring agreement of three to get item on agenda”

  1. Arne says:

    As the Mayor pointed out, not having a regular agenda item for a moment of silence at every city council meeting, it doesn’t prevent the Mayor from having a moment of silence at a council in memory of an Antioch resident who passed away, or from having a benediction at an installation ceremony.

  2. Speaking as a private citizen, and not for the School Board, the agenda issue was, I believe, a fight well worth fighting. Democracy in general, and our Antioch citizens in specific, came out on top of this discussion and final vote.

    Ms. Ogorchock is to be commended for spearheading the action; the Herald for hoisting the public recognition flag on it; and the Council Members for listening to the people in their 5-0 vote.

    Let’s be a role model for other cities, indeed.

  3. Rich says:

    Last night was a true indication that Antioch residents can, and will, make their beliefs and desires known to the very people they voted into office. It was a night of realization for the council and mayor when so many other topics, old and new, were brought up in conjunction with what many were afraid was going to transpire – a council by the council, for the council, regardless.

    Ms. Ogorchock and Mr. Tiscareno both had been put their their first real test and passed. I commend Ms. Ogorchock for not backing down initially knowing that in all likelihood the vote was leaning toward 3-2 against. I commend Ms. Wilson for her knowledgeable reasoning regarding the moment of silence or prayer. Mr. Tiscareno appeared irritated, in a good way and at the right times. And Ms. Rocha conceded, and rightfully so, also at the right times.

    Mr. Harper who solidly has been showing himself to be a bully and having to have it his way should now feel relieved that the burden has been lifted. Knowing that there are “new kids on the block” that are not going to put up with the antics and perform democratically, not only for themselves, but for the better good of the people as expressed by the people – not as expressed by the council. A decades old argument without even knowing the outcome is pretty lame.

    I mention other topics, old and new. That brings in Mr. Duran, the “non-elected bully”. I do like the recommendation during the public comments of relieving him of his current duties and moving him over to an economic development position. City Manager or not, you were treating people like a bunch of dementia patients, shame on you. You were down right argumentative and acted less than mature when confronted with the truth. There were several other examples during the evening that left you in a very bad light.

    One other specific event was Ms. Motts and the Rivertown presentation for what has all along appeared to have not been the choice of direction of the city council. Possibly, after last nights display of democracy, the council will soon have on their agenda the Rivertown presentation and the competition for the public to view and make comments on. That was an amazing fight you put up on that one Mr. Duran.

    I was particularly pleased last night when it was obvious that the majority of people in chambers that gave thought worthy comments. It is obvious that the residents of Antioch can and will voice their feelings because they are ready to take back Antioch. Change is in the air. The question is will this current council continue down this road to harmony for the good of the city or will they revert back to what was witnessed last night. The minor disagreements, questions, knit picking is hopefully over and grown up ideas will prevail.

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