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TO: HONORABLE MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL
FROM: CITY MANAGER
DATE: APRIL 20, 2004
SUBJECT: AGENDA FORMAT AND PROCEDURES ISSUES
Consider continuing further discussion of changes to City Council agenda format and procedure for conduct of City Council business to a future workshop session.
At their meeting of April 6, 2004, the City Council discussed the effectiveness of the new City Council agenda format and the new procedure for conduct of City Council business. As a result of the discussion it was decided that:
Mayor Gardiner and Mayor Pro Tem Clark have suggested that the remaining agenda format issues and meeting procedures discussed in the April 6, 2004 Staff Report but not yet addressed by the City Council be continued. The Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem felt that the issues could be better addressed in a workshop setting, perhaps at the proposed City Council Team Building Workshop.
Attachment: Staff Report of April 6, 2004
Mayor Gardiner’s Memorandum of December 16, 2003
Councilman Stern’s Memorandum dated April 6, 2004
Councilman Wolowicz’s Memorandum dated April 6, 2004
Councilman Long’s Memorandum dated April 5, 2004
TO: HONORABLE MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL
FROM: CITY MANAGER
DATE: APRIL 6, 2004
SUBJECT: CITY COUNCIL AGENDA FORMAT AND PROCEDURES
FOR CONDUCT OF BUSINESS
Discuss the effectiveness of the new City Council agenda format and the new procedure for conduct of City Council business and receive input on the same from Council members, citizens and staff.
At their meeting of December 16, 2003 the City Council adopted a recommendation from Mayor Gardiner revising the agenda format and the conduct of procedure of City Council meetings. It was agreed that the matter would be revisited during the second Council meeting in March, 2004. Since Mayor Gardiner was out of the Country on March 16, 2004, the matter is presented this evening for Council discussion.
The following is an excerpt from the minutes of the City Council meeting of December 16, 2003:
Mayor pro tem Clark moved, seconded by Councilman Wolowicz, to approve the proposed changes to the agenda format and the conduct of City Council meetings.
Councilman Stern opined it is more sensible to organize the business of the meetings in line with public participation, allowing those items of greater interest to the public to be addressed earlier in the evening rather that taking old business first, followed by manager reports, then new business.
Mayor Gardiner noted that the purpose of covering old business is primarily a tracking mechanism, adding if there is a topic that generates great public interest, the meeting would be structured to accommodate that consistent with Councilman Stern’s point.
Councilman Stern stated he would prefer the general rule to be that staff reports are read, noting they do serve a valuable public purpose by providing an understanding of what Council members have been presented with in making their decisions. He expressed disagreement with the aggressive enforcement of the three-minute clock for public comments, saying it is useful in trying to keep people focused but should be exercised with some degree of leniency since members of the public are generally there to speak on items of great importance to them. He stated the idea of making a motion prior to any discussion of an item might make it more difficult to follow the motion, saying since motions often go through several changes before finally being adopted, it might be more beneficial to discuss the matter first, form somewhat of a consensus, and then articulate a clear motion.
Councilman Long stated the order of the agenda is an excellent suggestion and approved the idea of old business being readdressed to help keep track of things. He agreed with Councilman Stern’s suggestion that the default be to have staff reports read except in cases where it is clearly unnecessary. He approved the idea of stating a motion prior to discussion, saying it seems beneficial to frame the issue first. He stated implementation of the three-minute rule is an incentive for people to come prepared in recognition of the fact that Council has limited time that needs to be fairly allocated among all speakers. He added it should be used as a default with the proviso that if more time is needed it can be requested by the speaker or a member of the Council. He suggested moving forward with the proposed changes but seeking public input on the issues of having staff reports read and the three-minute time limit as defaults.
Councilman Wolowicz applauded the proposals in general, stating he would prefer to maintain some flexibility depending on what issues are at hand. He opined the waiving of staff reports should be addressed on an issue-by-issue basis and that consideration should be given first to matters in which there is much public interest because often valuable speakers are lost because the issue they came to invoke is not addressed until the late hours of the night.
Mayor pro tem Clark stated that many of his thoughts and ideas have been incorporated into formulating the proposed changes and stated his belief that this will be the City’s most open and publicly interactive Council to date. He recommended that the three-minute rule be the default rather than an absolute and suggested testing the new format for a trial period of two months then agendizing it to determine from the perspective of Council members, staff, and the public how well it is operating.
Mayor Gardiner indicated the intention of the proposed changes is to organize the meetings in the most efficient manner and make it possible to hear from the public in an effective and meaningful way. He noted that by keeping the meetings focused, more time would be available to address the important business items presented.
Mayor pro tem Clark moved, seconded by Councilman Stern, to approve the proposed changes to the agenda format and the conduct of City Council meetings and to bring the matter back to the Council the first meeting in March as an agenda item to discuss the status of the new Council Agenda and seek input from staff and members of the public. The motion carried without objection.
Mayor Gardiner added that if it is determined that a mechanism in the proposed changes is not working, that can be addressed before the March meeting.
Ralph Ortolano, Jr., Rancho Palos Verdes, applauded Council’s efforts in this regard and thanked them for discussing the matter.
Attached is the December 16, 2003 memorandum from Mayor Gardiner on which the new format and procedures are based. Also attached is a memorandum from Councilmember Stern (dated April 6, 2004) providing his input on the City Council meeting procedures. No other City Council or citizen input has been received.
From a staff point of view we can work with whatever agenda and meeting format the Council is comfortable with. We do prefer the simplicity of the previous agenda format that categorized all the items of business as either Consent, Public Hearing or Regular Business. Whether an item is New Business or Old Business is sometimes not quite clear. In the end, however, all the items on the agenda will be addressed, so how they are labeled seems somewhat inconsequential to staff.
Attachment: Mayor Gardiner’s Memorandum of December 16, 2003
Councilman Stern’s Memorandum dated April 6, 2004
TO: CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
FROM: MAYOR PETER C. GARDINER
DATE: DECEMBER 16, 2003
SUBJECT: AGENDA FORMAT: PROPOSED REVISIONS
Consider the proposed changes to the agenda format for a trial period.
At the December 2nd City Council meeting, I requested that Council Members consider some revisions to the format of the agenda. The following table shows the current and the proposed agenda format to be tested for a trial period. The goal is to have most council meetings conclude by 10:00 PM while allowing sufficient time for adequate, focused discussion and to provide for and welcome input from the public. At the conclusion of the trial period, we will solicit comments about the new format and decide whether or not to continue the new format, make additional changes, or revert to back to the current format. Additions or changes are noted by underlining in the proposed column:
In addition to the agenda format, I am recommending on a trial basis the following changes in the conduct of business at meetings:
All business will be conducted in accordance with Roberts Rules of Order, a copy of which will be available at the meeting.
Mayor Peter C. Gardiner
TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND COUNCILMEMBERS
FROM: COUNCIL MEMBER DOUGLAS W. STERN
DATE: APRIL 6, 2004
SUBJECT: CITY COUNCIL MEETING PROCEDURES
At the Council meeting on December 16, 2003, Mayor Peter Gardiner made a number of suggested changes to the City Council Meeting Procedures. At that time it was agreed by the Council that the changes would be used on an interim basis and that the subject would be revisited at this time.
I applaud Mayor Gardiner for looking to improve the manner in which we conduct our meetings. It is always appropriate to strive to improve our procedures so that we better perform our tasks. Some of the changes were simply to rearrange the order in which the Council takes up business. Other suggested changes modify the manner in which we conduct the business of the city.
I believe that evaluating the value of each suggested change requires that we also articulate the values and goals that we are attempting to achieve. For instance, if the overriding value is to dispense with our business in the fastest manner possible, then certain processes may be dictated. If other values are important, then other procedures may be more prudent. Hence, I think it important to articulate the values we are attempting to advance. That will allow us to select the processes that best serve those values. No doubt, there may be a difference of opinion as to what the values are that we should strive to achieve. And no doubt some values will lead to conflicting conclusions.
In the December 16, 2003 Report, the stated goal for the revision to the Procedures followed by the City Council was as follows:
The goal is to have most council meetings conclude by 10:00 PM while allowing sufficient time for adequate, focused discussion and to provide for and welcome input from the public
While I find laudable the goal of completing our business in a timely manner, I do not place speed of decision making as a primary value or goal. I place far greater value on the goal of "allowing sufficient time for adequate, focused discussion and to provide for and welcome input from the public." In my view, we are not merely elected to make decisions. We are not a private entity. We are elected to perform the very public act of self governance. I believe that this demands the application of different values than one might apply in a private organization or business setting. There are other values that are much more important to me given what I view to be the role of elected officials conducting public business. It also requires that we accommodate a greater variety of opinions, since the values of the entire community are involved, not a more narrow set of values that might be present in a business setting.
On December 15, 1999, in my Report to the City Council addressing our Rules of Procedure I articulated the following as purposes for our rules:
1. Provide a framework that makes possible and encourages maximum public input into the Council’s decision making process.
2. Enhance the public’s understanding of the matters that we will be addressing.
3. Increase the public’s understanding of the City Council’s decisions on those matters.
4. Provide for the orderly processing of our business.
To these I would add the value of establishing procedures that minimize potential for unnecessary conflict as we attempt to find acceptable solutions. We also must maintain an atmosphere that is not viewed as negative or aggressive toward the public.
I recognize that we all may differ on the values and goals that we believe are appropriate for our meetings, but I think that high on the list must be the desire to obtain public input, and public understanding and acceptance of our decisions. We are not elected merely to make decisions. While we should exercise our best personal judgment in reaching decisions, we will be more capable of achieving good results when we have maximized the public’s input. Similarly, we must be mindful of the importance of assisting the public to understand the rationale we have employed to reach our decisions. All too often in my first term I witnessed the Council taking action that was difficult for many to understand. There was no desire or attempt to make the basis for decisions understandable. This was harmful to all concerned, and I believe played a role in creating the public perception that the Council was not interested in hearing from and dealing with the public.
Certainly there are other values that might be articulated. It is valuable to not lose sight of the values as we attempt to modify our Procedures for the better.
We have moved Public Comments to the front of the Agenda. I agree that this is appropriate and valuable. We previously had scheduled Public Comment for approximately 8:40 p.m. following our first break. Hitting this time had proven elusive, as we often were late in taking Public Comment when we had a matter that had not yet been finished at that time. (When I joined the council in Dec. 1999 the Public Comment was at the end of the Agenda, and I suggested that it be moved up to the first break.) There is value in having Public Comment early in the meeting as it affords our residents the best opportunity to easily attend and address a non-agenda matter, and to also have the possibility that their comments are heard by others in the community. That has value, as it can lead others to also indicate that the matter should be addressed, which is helpful feedback for the Council.
Prior practice was to have these following the first break. The Mayor has suggested that they be given at the beginning of the meeting. I am not certain that moving them to the beginning of the meeting is wise. We tend to be most verbose at the very beginning. Some Council members may be more concise if their comments are given after the first break. At least at that point in time the council will have some sense of the impact their "long-version" reports may have on the meeting.
I suggest we move the council member reports back on the agenda to follow the first break, to take place about 8:30 p.m.
I do not see the virtue in listing "Old Business" as an agenda item. On the contrary, I believe it to be negative, not merely neutral.
I do see value in having City Manager Reports; an opportunity for the City Manager to provide information.
The December 16 Report listed the purpose of having "Old Business" listed as follows:
Items continued (but no decision made; list date continued from; give status update; note who assigned to). Tabled items (date tabled, who tabled). Opportunity for City Manager to report or comment.
Our March 2 Agenda lists the following:
(5 min) OLD BUSINESS/CITY MANAGER REPORTS:
Miscellaneous Items for Action:
Continued Items for Action:
Continued Items Listed for Information Only:
I believe that the inclusion of items that the City Council is not intending to address at that meeting is confusing to the public and should not be listed. As an agendized "topic," the Council is (unintentionally I believe) inviting public input on this topic. I don’t see the virtue in agendizing things we are not intending to address.
We should not have "Miscellaneous Items for Action." All items we might address should be separately stated and clearly identified so that the Council and the public have the greatest chance of knowing that the matter is before the City Council for action.
Further, when each matter is separately and clearly agendized it is (presumably) accompanied by a report. (Hopefully every matter brought to our City Council is accompanied by a staff report. On the few occasions that we have had non-emergency matters placed before the City Council without the benefit of a staff report we have been at our worst, making decisions based on assumptions, rumor, misunderstandings, or worse. One such example was when a councilmember insisted on placing a matter on the agenda simply described as: "14. Clarification of privatization of the Ocean Trails Golf Course." There was unnecessary public confusion and concern as there was no report that gave any clue as to what the issue to be addressed was. There was a fundamental lack of understanding of the safeguards already in place that addressed that privatization issue. Another matter placed on the agenda without the benefit of any information or background was simply "Ganado Trail." Again there was a total lack of understanding of what had been done to date, and what was or could be addressed.) I do not to see the rationale in listing "Miscellaneous Items." (I will leave it to the city attorney to tell us if such a grouping conforms to the Brown Act. Even if it does, I don’t believe it to be good practice.)
Similarly, I do not see the value in a category of "Continued Items for Action." The only factor that differentiates this from any other item is that it has been listed previously on one of our agendas. Such a matter should be agendized like any other matter that may be acted upon, as simply an agenda item for the meeting. I think there is a likelihood that the public may not understand that items listed in that category will be taken up, and hence we may unintentionally cause some members of the public to fail to make their thoughts known to us. What is the virtue in carving out a separate category for these items based solely on the fact that they have previously appeared on the agenda? They can simply be listed like any other agendized matter.
Finally, I do not believe there is a benefit to listing "Continued Items Listed for Information Only." The City Council will not be taking these matters up at the meeting. (I doubt that we can prevent someone from speaking on the matter, even though we have no intention of addressing the matter. I shall leave it to the City Attorney to advise us, but I would be troubled if we refused to allow a member of the public to speak to a matter listed on the agenda.)
If this is meant to be a checklist of unfinished matters, I think that such a list is more appropriate in the Weekly Report. Assuming that council members wish to learn of the status of any matter, they can inquire of the City Manager during the newly added "City Manager Reports," or in any other manner desired. I believe that listing items that are not to be addressed substantively by the Council only clutters the agenda, possibly causing confusion by the public. Further, it may invite unintended public discussion at a time when we are not really prepared to fully appreciate the public comments.
There may be value in having an appropriate time to bring to the attention of the City Manager items that Council Members believe are appropriate for future agendas. While it generally has not been the practice of many council members in the past to propose matters for consideration, I believe that such is a proper role for elected officials. We should recognize that listing this as a agendized item does invite the public to take the opportunity to speak to this matter.
Although not listed in the December 16, 2003, Report, our agendas have recently included references to time estimates for each matter. My understanding is that this is an attempt to estimate time so that business is scheduled to cause the meeting to end by 10:00.
First, I think that the inclusion of time estimates on the agenda may not be properly understood by the public. They suggest to the public the time that we will devote to various matters, when that is not our intent. We shall devote the time necessary to fully understand and address each matter. On at least one occasion I am aware of a resident reaching the conclusion that the matter of concern to that resident was not going to get a "fair consideration" because the time allotted to the matter was rather short. Additionally, it is unlikely that the Council shall cut off its discussion simply to achieve the time limit.
Second, inclusion of time estimates may lead some residents to believe that he or she can simply add up the time before the matter they are interested in addressing, and come at the time estimated using that technique. That would be unfortunate, since they might miss their matter.
Also, I would find it troubling if any council member believed he/she had more productive comments and chose to not make such statements simply because of the time estimate that had been listed for the item. That is not a virtue I ascribe to.
To the extent that the council wishes to direct the City Manager to attempt to limit the length of the agenda to achieve an earlier adjournment time, that direction can be given without publishing time estimates on the agenda. However, I am concerned that we not defer business simply because we desire to leave by 10:00.
Reasonable efforts might be made to conclude meetings at an earlier time. I agree that it would be nice to conclude our business by 10:00. Perhaps it is in the articulation of the goal that I find to be a problem. Ending meetings by 10:00 is not a high priority for me in conducting the public’s business. It is more important to me that the matters we address are handled in a manner that allows all interested person to present input, that then allows the Council to fully discuss the issues that have been raised, and reach a decision that reflects the best effort of five elected officials. I am troubled if a council member feels rushed to resolve a matter. That is a false economy if the trade-off is the loss of confidence by all council members in their ability to fully understand all issues germane to that person’s decision.
Managing the number of meetings in combination with the agenda to make sure that the City Council does not compromise the values I have listed in the name of completing business by 10:00 should be achievable. If more meetings are needed to complete the business, then that solution should be considered. However, I do not think that we should strive to end meetings by 10:00 if to do so means that we habitually fail to take up items that have been agendized. We should strive to finish the full agenda once we have adopted it for the meeting.
The Mayor suggested in his December 16, 2003 Report that we modify our Hearing processes slightly. I shall first list his proposal, and in the table below list the present Rule (which includes matter that the Mayor did not address.)
Our present procedure for public hearings is set forth in Rule 8.
I believe that some of the suggested changes should not be adopted, and shall list each separately.
The suggested procedure omitted the process included in Rule 8.2 (5). That rule was proposed by me and adopted by the City Council February 5, 2002. (See, http://www.palosverdes.com/rpv/citycouncil/agendas/2002_Agendas/MeetingDate-2002-02-05/#13a.
That addition inserted an additional step following questioning of staff. It reads:
Prior to hearing public testimony or comments, Council members are encouraged to raise questions or identify issues of concern that they may have, which may assist members of the public to focus their comments upon those questions or issues. However, Council members shall refrain from stating their final position or how they intend to vote on the issue until all public testimony has been received.
I believe that this is valuable process to include in the hearing procedures. Often council members have thoughts or reactions to information, or questions that can be addressed by members of the public. I witnessed hearings where council members clearly had questions, but no mention was made to the public until after the public comments were received. At that time members of the Council would discuss the matter and make statements that clearly indicated that they had some perceptions that were not based on fact or input, but supposition. I observed members of the audience indicate that they could provide factual input on that issue, only to be told that the public had already had its opportunity to provide input.
It is very helpful to any person addressing an issue to have some idea of the issues or questions that the decision makers have. Use of this tool gives our residents the greatest potential for addressing these mattes, and for educating the Council on these points. This step should be included in our procedures.
Existing Rule 8.2(3) calls for oral staff reports. It has been suggested that the rule should be that reports are not given, unless requested by a Council Member. I disagree with this suggested change. Staff reports are an important part in assisting the public to understand the matter that is before the City Council. I believe that it is very important that we make reasonable effort to assist the viewing public in understanding the issue presented. That is best achieved by having summary oral reports that highlight the important facts and issues. I fully expect that City Council members will have read the staff report included in the agenda package. However our residents should not have to obtain the staff report and read them to have an understanding of the matter. Having summary oral reports before a matter is discussed serves a very valuable public purpose. Also, the presentation of an oral report can, on those rare occasions where a council member has unknowingly failed to understand a point, help a council member.
Additionally, staff should focus on both presenting the report, and focusing the Council on the issues that appear to be the issues for decision. (Undoubtedly the City Council may see the issues differently on occasion, but generally speaking I believe that staff does a good job of articulating where the issue lies, and hence is of value.) Use of tools such as Power Point presentations, even if only composed of bullet point outlines on topics and issues, assist the City Council and public in focusing discussion.
Also, on occasion the presentation by staff may alert the council to the need to change or clarify a rule, because the articulation of the test or standard that staff is applying may not be consistent with the view of the council.
Rather than making it the default rule that staff reports are not given, the rule should be that focused staff reports, using tools to aid in a focused discussion should be given. Reports should only be waived when affirmative action to waive a report is taken by the Council.
I admit to a personal bias against the three minute rule. The Council knows that as Mayor I was not eager to cut off speakers. I remain of the view that most residents attempt to complete their remarks within the 3 minute time limit, and that little is gained by aggressively applying the three minute rule. I believe that the best way to alienate the public is to cut off speakers. I believe that a review of RPV City Council meeting tapes would reveal that only a few minutes are added to each meeting by people who spoke in excess of 3 minutes in the past, while multiples of that time has been used by Council Members in their somewhat meandering, verbose and repetitive comments. In my view, this is a false economy, with no upside. All we are achieving is a less friendly council.
I also am concerned about the tone we create with this rule. While the Mayor has been liberally granting speakers additional time, we do so by abruptly interrupting the speaker to announce that he/she has more time. I do not find this to achieve any meaningful purpose. It is a distraction. If, as has been the recent experience, virtually every speaker is allowed to finish, what are we achieving, other than the interruption, and the satisfaction of saying that we have a rule that we follow. If, on the other hand, we begin to stop people at the three minute mark, I would be very troubled. Given the very slight benefit (if any) that we can experience, and the negative tone I believe this sets, we should not handle this matter in this way.
I also can recall how prior mayors abused the three minute clock to allow those speaking favorably of the Council action to liberally exceed the 3 minute limit, and used the clock to silence those who were not speaking so glowingly of the Council. I speak from personal experience. Then Mayor McTaggart chose to selectively direct me to sit down immediately once the light turned red, when my comments were critical of the Council’s action. He had allowed others speaking on the very same matter before me to go beyond the time limit as their comments were favorable to the Council. While I have no concern that the present Mayor would behaved similarly, we should always be mindful of the abuses that our Rules can foster.
I know that I am likely a minority of one on this issue, but I think we send the wrong message to the public when we aggressively apply the rule by interrupting the speaker at three minutes and find out if a council member desires to grant additional time to the speaker. I prefer a more lenient standard. Let the speaker speak, and gently point out that the time has expired. I don’t believe a problem exists that requires a cure.
Our present Rule 8.4 and practice has been to discuss a matter following public input, and craft a motion after the solution seems to be articulated or coalesce. I favor that method. The Rule contemplates that discussion may often take place before a motion. (See 8.4(1)-(3).) The Mayor has suggested that no discussion should take place until a motion is on the floor. I assume that the purpose for the suggestion is to focus the members on the issue(s). I agree that focused discussion should be the goal. (Too many times I observed council members meander. But I doubt that the presence of a motion would have changed the discussion one iota, since the practice seemed to be the characteristic of the council member(s).) And I doubt that those who meandered believed that they were not addressing the issue.
Also, Roberts Rules of Order provides:
"Before any subject is open to debate it is necessary, first, that a motion be made by a member who has the floor; second, that it be seconded; and third, that it be stated by the presiding officer." (Roberts Rules of Order, §3.)
However, an issue to be decided is whether such a rule mandating a motion in all instances is the wisest rule in the context of a five person body such as our City Council, or whether we are better served with a more flexible rule that allows either the making of a motion and then discussion, or discussion to help the Council see where the solution lies before any formal motion is advanced.
Our City Council is a body of only five persons, not 20, 40, 80 or 435. Our City Council does not (generally speaking) initiate the input that leads to our actions. On the contrary, it is initiated by legally agendized matters, detailed reports and work-up from our staff. Generally, the issues are articulated by staff in its report. These observations are important for a number of reasons.
First, the presence of the staff report and recommendation often serves to focus the discussion. I believe that the requirement that a motion be made before discussion takes place is logical in other forums so that the subject and issue that the body must address is framed. Since the matter is basically framed by the information presented by staff, and the public, requiring a motion in our meetings is of limited added value in defining the issues.
Second, the existence of only five decision makers often leads to "consensus" decisions. This is a virtue. These are the product of discussion, and building on the strengths of the ideas of the members. The members, through discussion, are better able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the others’ ideas. This often leads to the development of a solution as the matter is talked out. Nothing inherent in having a motion on the floor prevents the type of discussion I have described. However, the presence of a motion, and focus upon it, may inhibit the discussion that builds a better solution.
Third, requiring motions before discussion changes the dynamic of the discussion in ways that I think are negative. It is not uncommon for a council member to desire to discuss concerns before articulating a position. Often as open-minded participants, we are well served by talking before we stake out a position. Once positions are articulated as motions, or amendments, we are put in the position of having to vote matters up or down, and unfortunately, some council members may feel slighted by the lack of support for their motion or amendment. Had the idea been put forth, and discussed in a way that did not require a motion to address it, some of these impacts can be avoided.
Also, I believe that some members will tend to be more likely to make a motion, and hence we shall see some members dominating the proceedings. There is nothing wrong with having a clear vision of the solution, but I see virtue in discussing the various ideas, reconciling differences, and then crafting a motion that best fits the views that have been articulated.
I am concerned that always articulating a motion before discussion will lead to new and different problems when the solution is evolving and the motion is modified any number of times. My concern is not theoretical. The new set of problems is illustrated in our draft January 20, 2004 Minutes, set forth in the box below. Note how the "motion" is made, another motion made, no vote taken, etc. I do not believe that the presence of a motion led to a more focused discussion. I believe it led to wasted time and unnecessary confusion. The same ideas would have been brought forth without all the formal motions, amendments, and confusion.
I think it better practice (in those instances where discussion helps us find the solution) to allow the five council members to discuss the matter and work up the solution, and then articulate a motion at one point in time when it appears that a solution has been devised.
Nor do I believe that the presence of a motion will lead to a more focused discussion. I believe that each member will still speak to those issues that he or she believes should be addressed on the agendized matter. While I am sure that I will find some comments to be "off-target" in my view, I have no doubt that each council person will always view his/her comments as germane.
Requiring formality will open up an entirely new and unfortunate matter to argue over. We can create rules, but the debate will become the application of those rules rather than the merits of the various ideas on the issue before us. That is not a virtue.
If we chose to require a motion in every situation, we are likely to see motion, discussion, amendment, more discussion, more amendments, restatement, etc. leading to more confusion as to what precisely is proposed at the end of the day for adoption. We also are likely to see council members become entrenched in their positions, since they have been required to articulate a full position to make their motion. I do not see the virtue in this requirement. I would hope we do not require a motion. Let the council discuss each matter and make a motion when a council member believes he/she can best articulate an acceptable solution.
Requiring a Second to Discuss a Matter.
I am troubled by the fact that a matter can not be discussed until there is a second. In our body that is one vote short of a majority. Had this rule been in place during the first two years of my first term, very few of the items that I proposed would have ever been discussed. I think that this would have been unfortunate, as many of my proposals ultimately were adopted when public support appeared to exist. Yet whether the public support would have been present absent the ability to address the matter is unclear. If two elections are any test, I believe that the issues I raised and discussed were important to the residents. For instance, I agendized a matter to have our ad hoc committees report publicly on their activities. No second was obtained. (See http://www.palosverdes.com/rpv/citycouncil/agendas/2000_Agendas/MeetingDate-2000-07-05/#15.) Our City Council was embarrassed two months later when the Daily Breeze reported on the multi-year work-up by an ad hoc committee on the proposed Portuguese Bend breakwater. We were next embarrassed one month later when the Daily Breeze ran a detailed article which questioned the legality of our ad hoc committees. Similarly, I was never able to obtain a second on various items I agendized to have the City Council address the issue of the use of the city owned land for the Long Point Hotel and golf course project. I believe application of that rule to a five person body is simply too harsh, with no meaningful benefit. The maker of the motion must be allowed to discuss the matter, if for no other purpose than to gain a second.
Also, under the Brown Act we are prevented from discussing matters outside of an agendized meeting. As a result, a council member does not have the opportunity outside of a meeting to line up a second or support for the motion. (I realize that a member can confer with one other member outside the meeting, but the burden still exists, since one would have to guess which of four council members would likely support the idea. If one guessed wrong, there is no opportunity to legally go to another council person to seek support.) This is a significant distinction that sets us apart from most bodies governed by Robert’s Rules. I believe that the limitations placed upon us by the Brown Act dictate that we should never require a second to discuss a matter.
Thus, I think we are better served by allowing discussion before any motion, and certainly allowing discussion after a motion, even if no second is obtained.
I think it valuable that we are addressing these issues. I am glad that I am serving with Council members who are striving to improve this institution, rather than merely accepting things simply because that is the way we have done them in the past. However, I am concerned that the changes suggested merely introduce rules, with little appreciation for whether this body will be improved by such rules.
Douglas W. Stern,
City Council Member