April 9 La Mesa City Council Meeting is cancelled. Was it the right thing to do?

On Friday April 5th at approximately 4PM the La Mesa City Clerk issued a notice that the April 9 4PM City Council Meeting was cancelled due to "a lack of agenda items." We find this curious! For one regular agenda item, the open public comments portion of every meeting, the City has no way to measure interest outside of actually providing this vital forum. It seems here that because the elected officials could not come up with their own items to discuss, then the public is to be denied their rightful and just opportunity to openly bring forward items or issues of their concern? Is the attitude of elected officials such that if they have nothing they believe worthy of a public meeting, then no one else has anything worthy of a public meeting? Or is it that the citizens must wait until elected officials think a public meeting is necessary? If the elected officials decide again in two weeks they have nothing to discuss, will the meeting again be cancelled? While probably unlikely could some future elected officials cancel meetings saying they have no business just to avoid the public forum? Is there a rule on how many meetings the City Council may cancel?

Our view is that the regularly scheduled open public forum, where any and all citizens have the right to public "redress of grievances," is in fact a necessary and non-negotiable agenda item that should not be cast aside because elected officials have no particular business of their own. Part of the job of public officials is to hold these meetings. Whether they be four minutes or four hours long makes no difference.
Some might say that the cost of holding a public meeting is not worth it under these circumstances. Is the convenience of public officials or claimed budgetary considerations to be made superior to open and transparent government business or to the regularly scheduled opportunity of citizens to publicly speak their mind to those who serve them?
So even if no citizen steps to the podium to address the body of elected officials during non-agenda open comments, should regularly scheduled La Mesa City Council meeting should be cancelled for lack of official agenda items?

Maybe a topic for the council to address the next time they do meet?

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Tags: Government, La Mesa City Council, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, La Mesa newspaper, Open meetings

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Comment by Scott H. Kidwell on April 13, 2013 at 8:48am

La Mesa muni Code 2.08.010 - Time of regular meetings.permanent link to this piece of content

The city council shall hold regular meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at the hour of four p.m.; and the fourth Tuesday at the hour of six p.m., except for the second meeting in August which shall serve as a summer recess; provided however, that when the day fixed for any regular meeting of the council falls upon a day designated by law as a legal or national holiday, such meeting shall be held at the same hour on the next succeeding day not a holiday. (Boldface and underline added)

The Muni code also notes that the Mayor or a majority of the council may call a special meeting. It is not clear who has the authority to cancel a  Code 2.08.010 section council meeting. I don't recall a time when a scheduled meeting was cancelled as was this one. This seems an area the council should discuss, clarify and maybe revise the Muni code to accommodate this situation should it arise again.

Comment by Mark Cavanaugh on April 11, 2013 at 8:59pm

The answer is gun control.  He who controls the gun wins.   If you could legally carry around a concealed weapon like in Texas, probably would see a lot less purse snatchings and maybe a few more dead worthless excuses for human beings

Comment by Lisa Moore on April 11, 2013 at 2:22pm

I think a good item for the agenda that I am sure would get lots of public response is the rising crime rate in La Mesa......up 11% since last year.  Not included is another purse snatching at Grossmont Center Thurs.  This percentage increase may not seem like a lot for some, but it is for me.  I'm sure the citizens of La Mesa would love to get some answers as to what is being done to curtail this increase.  Good item to be discussed at the next scheduled City Council meeting.

Comment by David Smyle on April 10, 2013 at 11:20pm

Has a meeting ever been cancelled in the past due to no agenda items?  If so when?  Wonder if it only happens on opening day?

Comment by David Smyle on April 10, 2013 at 9:58pm

To Bill's point, with no agenda, this would have been a perfect time for a open forum or town hall meeting.  I would love to know how that new $50,000 mower is working out!

Comment by Bill Jaynes on April 10, 2013 at 9:26pm

Thanks, Lisa. Sometimes I go stir crazy counting the cars not driving by.

I think the most important question remains: Did any official attending opening night as La Mesa's ambassador at least get an autographed ball for their efforts?

Comment by Lisa Moore on April 10, 2013 at 8:43pm

Bill, that was some comment!  It wandered around a bit at the beginning, but the summary at the end of why we should have held a council had some interesting points.  It just took a little reading to get there.

Comment by Bill Jaynes on April 10, 2013 at 8:26pm

It's fair to say that there are good arguments on both sides of this question. And while it would be easy to make the cheap shot that whenever government takes a day off, liberty wins, that is not my style.

Nor would it behoove the La Mesa Citizen Oversight Group to put out a press release claiming, in jest of course, the cancellation of Tuesday's Council meeting as yet one more in an unparalleled string of victories for "your local advocate for promoting open, accountable, cost-effective, efficient government, and for opposing unnecessary taxes, fees, regulations, and policies," lest the humor-impaired think we Neanderthals are already outgrowing our auroch hide britches.

Whichever way the decision came out, our elected representatives ran the risk of being criticized (and often by the same people, as Mr. Ewin drily implies!) But I don't think this post is intended to be an attack so much as an attempt to raise awareness and prompt some thinking about "the people's business." How is it conducted, what purpose is served by the policies in place, and might it be time to revisit them as La Mesa enters its second century contemplating renovating everything from the General Plan to our roads and potentially spending potentially millions of dollars rebuilding the Civic Center while the unfunded pension disaster looms, Washington continually piles on mandates while closing its money spigot, and Sacramento draws the noose ever tighter--hopelessly trying to forestall the day of reckoning we all know is coming?

Ms Alessio rightly encourages us to contact the Council at any time. But the post asks whether that's enough, given the symbolic primacy of place that Public Comment holds on the Council Agenda. And it asks if there is substance behind the symbol--when Staff has nothing pending, there are no pet projects to advance or speeches to be read, no money to spend nor awards to be doled out nor photo ops to be had, is the possibility that someone might come forth to speak (or speak back!) to his or her public servants and alert fellow citizens of an issue...is that reason enough to justify holding the meeting anyway.

I think it is. In fact, I think it is the most important reason of all.

We joke about a supposed conspiracy to cancel the meeting to attend opening day, but that risks reducing the dispute to a mere tempest in a teapot (available at ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH, purveyors of English stoneware and fine bone china, family owned and conveniently located for more than a quarter century at 4th and La Mesa, in the heart of the Village--that's ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH, yes, ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH, your Southern California destination for official Dr. Who memorabilia and licensed English football and rugby club gear)!!!


Wait, where was I?

 

Oh yes. About to give some reasons why we might have been better off holding a meeting yesterday:

 

1. Building from Dave's point, the Council just held an important workshop two weeks ago, where everything from reports from each department head to the over $30 million pension liability to the strategic vision for La Mesa going forward was discussed. The entire council participated in a vigorous give and take on each topic, and the meeting closed with incisive questioning and directions given by our representatives to the staff who must implement the policies the Council, as a body, adopts.

Unfortunately, due to the meeting's all-day nature, not many from the public could attend. Although LMCOG arranged for a continuous presence to watch over the proceedings, I think it would have been beneficial to have the workshop synopsized at the earliest public forum available, by those we've elected to look out for us, at a time when it is easier to be available for the proceedings.

 

2. One issue that came out of the workshop was the question of whether to proceed with planning for a new City Hall and parking garage on the vacant lots east of the current buildings and west of Spring. It's been reported on these pages that Mayor Madrid and Councilmember Sterling are fiercely pushing these projects to cement their legacies. My takeaway from the portion of the workshop I attended was that, at least as to Ms. Sterling, she advocated continuing the planning and analysis while we still have the services of Dave Witt, the City Manager. That is a far cry from advocating that we immediately spend multiple millions of dollars we don't have, in a still rough economy, to replicate office space that is readily available in commercial buildings less than a block away from the current City offices. Ms. Sterling's legacy to the citizens of La Mesa is one of responsible fiscal stewardship over our monies, not building unneeded white elephants that saddle us with even more debt, and a public meeting would have given her a chance to correct this misimpression before it takes on a life of its own and we stat hearing that we have to build if only because we have spent so much already.

3. News regarding the $2 Million SANDAG grant necessary to build the fully envisioned Downtown Streetscape was due this month. Unfortunately, SANDAG pulled the award announcement from the agenda for its April 5 meeting due to some scoring errors in evaluating the competing applications. Per SANDAG, the earliest any final decision can be taken regarding the awards is now at the June meeting.

Will that delay the Streetscape construction? Where does the La Mesa application stand? Staff seems optimistic, but we don't really know. And to anybody who works, resides or shops in the Village, it is a very important matter. Given that the Council Agendas don't come out until Friday afternoon (after the SANDAG meeting ended), this news could have been brought to their and the public's attention as an informational item in open session. At the very least, the questions could have been asked during public comment, had public comment not been considered insufficient reason in and of itself for a meeting.

 

Going forward, I think our elected policymakers should consider rethinking late cancellations of Council meetings. Among the questions to address are:

A. In whom does power reside to cancel a public meeting? Is it in staff's purview, the Mayor's, o the Council as a whole? As a side note, who controls the placement of agenda items, and does the current policy best serve the public?

B. Given the recently increased interest in use of the Public Comment portion of the meetings, is the possibility of a speaker sufficient to justify holding one when no "other" business is scheduled?

C. Ought the Agendas and/or Notices of Cancellation to be published sooner than the bare legal minimum before the meeting?

It is known that draft agendas circulate a few days prior to Friday. Perhaps a tentative agenda listing all known items can be published on the City's website, with placeholders to indicate possible additions, and a final one on Friday. This would, of course, require a good faith effort to be timely, if it is to have any purpose.

 

These are just some of the questions the meeting cancellation raises. Perhaps the Council ultimately determines that things are fine as they are, and that our concerns are overblown. That's OK, too. The point is that we will benefit from thinking about the rationale for the current system and discussing possible alternatives.

 

Bill Jaynes

ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BRITISH

619 464 2298

 

P.S. Sorry, Lisa. As was once said, if I had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter.

P.P.S. Hi Commissioner Wieboldt! Perhaps you can explain the Parking Commission meeting policy for us? Has there been a meeting since the Commission voted to recommend the Parking-In-Lieu fee that will allow developers to flatten the Village while buying their way out of the parking requirements and overcrowding residential streets while the money goes into a pot for a parking structure that may never get built and that City Staff admits we will only need if the Council approves the Parking-In-Lieu fee escape clause in the first place?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment by Lisa Moore on April 10, 2013 at 6:04pm

Well Jim maybe someone does want to hear what Dave has to say or write.  It's too bad you both can't stick to the subject of the message....the cancellation of the council meeting.  No one really wants to hear which ofyou boys can get the upper hand on your back and forth. 

Comment by Jim Wieboldt on April 10, 2013 at 5:11pm

Hey Dave...Who cares what you write, say or do?

Nobody!

Just sayin'!

Nobody!

 

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