LAURA FERGUSON, San Clemente City Councilmember
I have been inundated with requests to explain what happened at the last city council meeting. To my and everyone else’s surprise, Councilmember Kathy Ward stormed out of the meeting before a vote to approve funding of the sheriff’s contract and my desire to look to streamline the city’s operating costs. This action robbed the elected body of a quorum.
In mid-sentence, before I could finish my motion to approve the police services contract for fiscal year 2019-2020, which included the addition of two new patrol deputies and a full-time crime prevention officer, that me and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane fought hard to get in order to enhance the safety and well-being of our community. I know that safety is our residents’ number one priority and though two more patrol deputies are great, we need more.
As part of my motion to approve the budget, I included giving direction to the city manager to bring back cuts in August so that could allow us to add more deputies during the year. She interrupted me and gathered her things and said “I’m not going to participate … is this what you want?”
Had she stuck around, she would have heard my motion in its entirety. I gave “direction” to find cuts, but this modification to my motion did not indicate “approve” cuts. Who can be opposed to requesting that senior management look for budget cuts so that we can afford more police in our city? It seems like a logical ask, since I have been asking for such cuts since January, so that we could adequately staff police services to protect our community.
I stated at the budget workshop in May that I would not vote to adopt the annual budget on June 4 unless it included additional patrol deputies, especially considering we have the highest number of calls in South County communities served by OCSD and the least number of deputies serving a city our size. On June 4, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of two additional deputies because it was not included in the meeting agenda report, and the budget subsequently adopted unanimously by the city council.
At this week’s meeting, Councilmember Chris Hamm had to leave for work when the contract was up for discussion, which still left us with a quorum. Mayor Pro Tem Bane asked Councilmember Ward to allow me to finish my motion, but she refused and left the meeting. Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, which our city council adopted, allow for a member to make a motion, which one puts forward for the body’s consideration.
If a member wants to completely do away with the motion that is before the body, and put a new motion before the body, they would move a substitute motion. It is shockingly bad behavior by an elected official to not respect another member’s voice when she/he has the floor and demonstrate dignity, professionalism and civility in the conduct of the people’s business. I spoke with the sheriff’s command staff after the meeting was adjourned and assured them we can hold a special meeting to ensure the contract is readdressed. They shared that our current contract allows for a one-time, 60-day extension if needed.
I find myself deeply concerned about the lack of decorum we have seen on council. I was seated last December and immediately found myself defending a resident’s right to speak for three minutes during oral communications. Interruptions of the members of the public and of me, a sitting councilmember continue to be accepted despite having a council meeting policy and rules of order. What is the point of having rules if we are not going to follow them? Further, even though our city is embroiled in a lawsuit filed by several residents over free speech and civil rights violations for this very conduct, some members of council continue to interrupt speakers. In my opinion, this represents a callous disregard for stability and the rule of law.
I want to thank the residents for their standing room only crowds at our council meetings to hold their elected body accountable by demanding more deputies, seeking solutions to the homeless crisis, and expecting transparency and integrity of their leadership. I resolutely encourage the public’s continued involvement. This incident presents an opportunity for our city council to collectively work together for more effective and productive meetings. The people are our greatest resource to ensure this happens.