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By Shawn Raymundo
The city council voted on Tuesday, Jan. 21, to approve a couple of changes to its procedural policies regarding council agendas and how topics are brought up for deliberation.
With Councilmembers Kathy Ward and Chris Hamm absent from the discussion last week, the rest of the council voted, 3-0, in favor of the pair of amendments that Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson had proposed.
In one amendment, the council’s operating procedures would require that the city manager and mayor meet to have an agenda-setting conference. The second amendment would reduce the number of council votes needed to place a proposed item on an agenda from three to two.
Under the previous council policy, the city manager was “responsible for determining items to appear on City Council meeting agendas” unless a council majority had voted to have an item put on the agenda—commonly referred to as “agendizing.”
“We all represent the same constituency; we’re elected at large, and I think everyone’s voice deserves to be heard,” Ferguson said during the council’s discussion on her proposal to lower the agenda-setting threshold.
Initially, Ferguson had requested to require only one councilmember to agendize an item, but Mayor Dan Bane advocated instead for the “middle ground,” suggesting that the requirement should be a two-vote minimum.
“I think what that does is it does allow the minority to get things on the agenda; it at least respects staff time and provides that at least two folks want to discuss the item,” Bane said, adding: “We can figure out how to get that done and represent the people without wasting time.”
When Ferguson had asked to agendize the discussion of amending the policy during the council’s Dec. 17 meeting, Councilmember Hamm issued a stark rebuke, stating that such a change would waste the city’s time, as the minority would agendize items for discussion that the majority wouldn’t support.
And while Bane was supportive of giving the mayor some authority in setting the agenda by having a conference with a city manager, he noted that it would burden him with additional duties. He cautioned that he would give it a chance, but if it isn’t working out, he would request to bring it back to the council to amend the policy again.
“I’m willing to do that if the council thinks that’ll be more productive. . . . I can do my best to give it a try, and if it doesn’t work out, I may be coming back to council and saying, ‘It’s not working out, and we need to adjust,’ ” Bane said.
A third proposal Ferguson had, which was shot down by her fellow councilors, was an amendment to have confidential minutes of the council’s closed-session meetings. According to Ferguson, confidential minutes had been a previous practice of the council in the past.
However, Bane, citing his experience as an attorney, said that having confidential minutes is likely to compromise the council in litigation, as opposing firms could request those documents and use them against the city.
“I think that would be a really bad idea,” Bane said. “And the reason is, any time the city gets sued, the first thing that a law firm on the other side is going to do is request our confidential minutes … I’ve seen cities lose battles on releasing those minutes.”
Councilmember Gene James also expressed hesitation with that recommendation, stating that he’s “freer” and feels “more comfortable with an exchange of ideas without that being memorialized and being discoverable at some later point.
The city council is scheduled to meet for its next regular meeting on Feb. 4.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.