The Santa Monica City Council adjusted their own meeting procedures to alleviate a process considered by some to be tedious and which often ended well into the morning hours thanks to long-winded speakers and intense open-ended debate.
The council voted to limit redundant presentations and allow for more public discussion with specific regard to special needs persons. Meetings will now start at 5:30 p.m. with closed session and all public discussion to follow. Previously, meetings began at 5:45 p.m. with consent calendar items, before council retreated into closed session with legal council. The vote passed with a split four to two with Council Members Richard Bloom and Gleam Davis as the dissenters.
Presentations by council members will be limited to five minutes in order to expedite meetings. Staff presentations are currently approved in advance by the city manager’s office while allowing for more time in special circumstances.
City Manager Rod Gould explained the guidelines were an attempt to allow more time for “robust discussion” from the public while streamlining the meetings in a comprehensible manner.
Council Member Pam O’Connor lauded the issue after some debate voting in confidence to the manager’s office ability to rein lengthy presentations, while Davis called the time limit “demeaning” and unnecessary. Davis said the time limit attempts to solve a problem that is no longer an issue. Bloom said speakers are already putting considerable effort into being concise in order to create the “greatest effectiveness” in preplanning for all presentations.
To further accelerate public comment and adhere to the new starting time, special-needs public comment will be stricken from the beginning of the meetings. Previously, members with special needs, including elderly or young persons who need to leave early, had the opportunity to speak before the council leaves for closed session.
Council members complained this procedure creates a disjointed meeting by allowing lengthy public opinion on any subjects delayed the start of the meetings. Tuesday’s meeting discussion did not start until almost 8 p.m. after special-needs comments, the consent calendar, and the closed session. The new guidelines allow special needs speakers’ assistance to write their statement that would then be “considered in full” by the council with the option of it being read at the time of public comment at the end of all agenda items. This enables for all comments to be read at the same time – which on Tuesday began around midnight.
Davis expressed “discomfort” to treat self-identified special needs speakers separately from other members of the public. McKeown supported the move for statements to be “consider equally at the same time” and therefore eliminating major delays.
Council members will also share responsibility for ordering the meeting agendas and displaying a time clock for speakers and council members to be aware of time limits during discussion. No time limits for response to presentations or debate were considered. The council struck one item to allow for ad hoc committees to discuss special topics separately from the council meetings. Such committees are presently used although infrequently in rule with Brown Act regulations, which require public notice.
“The ultimate result will be if we actually pass a rule to do something on a more frequent basis that is not part of the norm, part of the ethos of what we do in Santa Monica, and what our public expects from us,” Bloom said, “this will be a council more of a rubber stamp for what has happened in the community.”