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LOCAL Commentary :: Government & Elections

Rotkin's Council To Cut Back Public Comment

On Tuesday March 22nd, Mayor Mike Rotkin introduces a radical measure to severely limit public comment on most of the agenda items that come up at City Council. Robert Norse sent the following critical letter to Mayor Rotkin and the City Council, urging them to defeat item #18.

Call 420-5020 or e-mail citycouncil (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us to register your opposition.
AGENDA ITEM #18 ON THE AFTERNOON AGENDA OF THE SANTA CRUZ CITY COUNCIL (it should come up sometime between 3 and 5 PM).



AGENDA OF: March 22, 2005
DEPARTMENT: City Council
SUBJECT: COUNCILMEMBER HANDBOOK

RECOMMENDATION: That the City Council adopt a resolution revising the Councilmember Handbook and rescinding Resolution No. NS-24,070.
DISCUSSION: The last review of the Councilmember Handbook was in November, 1998. I am requesting that Council review and approve the following changes.

First, the time for City Council meetings should be revised to reflect the current start time of 3:00 p.m. along with the current practice for ordering items on the agenda.

Second, given the fact that the afternoon session consists of routine administrative business and members of the public can often extend the session by removing multiple items for discussion, I am recommending the addition of the following language to the handbook:

“Unless they are principally involved with the item under discussion, any member(s) of the public who pull(s) more than one Consent item, or wish to comment on more than one pulled Consent item will be limited to a TOTAL of 5 minutes, in one single comment period, for comment on ALL of the items on which they wish to comment.

Furthermore, any member(s) of the public wishing to speak on multiple Administrative Business items may speak for three minutes on one item of his/her choosing, afterward, the comment period will be for one minute on each additional item.?

The attached Councilmember Handbook reflects these revisions, as well as the charter amendment revision allowing the Clerk to maintain historical documents in files, rather than books.

FISCAL IMPACT: Approval of the above recommendation has no fiscal impact.

Submitted by:
Mike Rotkin
Mayor


LETTER TO MIKE ROTKIN OPPOSING AGENDA ITEM #18

309 Cedar PMB #14B
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
March 21, 2005

Mayor Mike Rotkin
809 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Re: Item #18 "Resolution revising Councilmember Handbook..."


Dear Mayor Rotkin,

The proposed change in the rules involves a wholesale and arbitrary attack on the right of public comment on items on the Consent Agenda and on the Administrative Agenda--which contain by far the majority of the City Council's business items.

To begin with, the resolution you propose is deceptively packaged. The agenda described it as a "Resolution revising the Councilmember Handbook and rescinding Resolution No. NS-24,070" It masquerades as some kind of technical revision of Councilmembers protocol, rules that affect Councilmembers.

It actually concerns an unprecedented reduction of public comment time directed against the public (with no restrictions at all on City Councilmembers).

This drastic reduction of the amount of public comment time on the majority of City Council agenda items should be billed as "A Modest Proposal to Cut the Right of the Public To Speak on 2/3 of the Agenda Items before City Council."


Muzzling Consent Agenda Discussion

You propose to penalize any member of the public who wishes to exercise her right to talk on more than one item of the Consent Agenda by requiring the speaker to compress all their remarks on all items into five minutes continuous discussion.

Such a restriction does not allow members of the public to hear and benefit from hearing the testimony of others on the same item (since they must prepare their remarks in advance). It makes it hard for both the listening public and City Council members to follow remarks made about such items--since they must hurriedly be made and crammed together in such a limited time.

Finally, the absurdity of such a restriction is clear when you consider how it would be regarded if applied to a Councilmember. It would not be possible to reasonably discuss the items at all.

The Consent Agenda has often served as a means of rushing through items that have merited further discussion (such as funding for Santa Cruz Coast Hotel consultants). You and former Mayors, to discourage public comment from disfavored members of the public have already adopted muzzling tactics that have involved moving the consent agenda ahead many hours, moving it ahead to a time uncertain, suddenly bringing back an item when a person who wants to speak on a consent agenda item is out of the room, and selectively cutting back public comment time on a consent agenda when a person you don't want to hear from is at the microphone.

These tactics, as well as the current proposed rule change, further restrict public comment in a capricious, arbitrary, and discriminatory fashion. The rule change violates several sections of the Ralph M. Brown Act*, which guarantees the community fair public comment time on each agenda item, not to be removed at the whim or prejudice of the chair (or, indeed, of the entire City Council).

Rather I would urge you to consider adding a provision that the Consent Agenda discussion
(a) shall not be delayed from its announced place on the agenda except for those special items for which a significant percentage of the public in council chambers is waiting;
(b) shall provide a minimum of three minutes discussion per item per person except under the most unusual of circumstances;
(c) shall also be limited among City Council members to a total of five minutes per item, unless the time is extended by a majority vote of the Council for another five minutes;
(d) shall include an understanding that repetitive or off-topic remarks will be discouraged. The Chair shall remind the speaker that he has the right to rule such remarks out of order.

To muzzle the public, while providing unrestricted (and often extremely long-winded) response and discussion time by Council members is an outrageous abuse of the democratic process.


Muzzling Administrative Agenda Discussion

Members of the public often have even more interest in expanding rather than contracting Administrative Agenda item discussion. Such items include advisory commission appointments, advisory commission reports, motions to provide direction to the staff on a variety of matters (one of the few opportunities the public has to discuss what they want the staff to do on a particular issue), draft letters sent by Council to UCSC, Washington, etc. parking program changes, and other issues.

The staff is currently allowed an unlimited amount of time to speak. Members of the public are not allowed to address questions to the staff. Now you propose to cut back their three minute time to one minute, if they wish to speak on more than one administrative item. But, of course, you propose no time restrictions on City Council members.

You have provided no documentation of your claim that Council rules suddenly and abruptly must be changed. You have made no provision for committee or commission hearings on this key issue, which enormously reduced the right of the public to speak at City Council on most items.

Your justification provides absolutely no reason for such a drastic truncating of public comment time. Your concern is "the fact that the afternoon session consists of routine administrative business and members of the public can often extend the session by removing multiple items for discussion."

In a democratic system, the price of doing business is hearing from the public. In this new severe attack on public comment, you are showing that apparently you not only don't want to hear from the public but won't allow them to speak.


Discriminatory Motivation

You are acting to institutionalize an ad hoc discriminatory rule mandating "five minutes for all comments on all consent agenda items"--which you created on the spot at the March 8th meeting to limit me and Michael Tomasi from speaking. Now without informing the public, holding any committee meetings, or allowing any kind of media discussion, you are slipping past the public a fundamental reduction in their speaking time.

I suggest either prejudice or political bias motivates this move. I refer you to your letter of March 11th commenting on the February 8th Council meeting. In that letter, you express your exasperation at Michael Tomasi:

"Mr. Tomasi had been commenting on every agenda item and almost, without exception, never speaking to the topic at hand. Allowing him to, once again, repeat his rehearsed explanation of his Vietnam experiences for 90 seconds as generous since his comments might simply have been ruled out of order entirely."

The Mayor (or anyone acting as chair) is empowered to enforce a relevancy rule, if that becomes necessary. To praise the chair's "generosity" on one occasion, then propose, with no warning a systematic limitation of public comment on all consent and administrative agenda items in the future is disingenuous in the extreme. A cynic might suggest that you expressly tolerated repeated off-topic speeches by Michael Tomasi in order to justify this subsequent crackdown on public comment generally.


Hostility to Public Comment Should Not be Made a Part of Council Rules

Your hostility to facilitating public comment is not limited to this rule. Your canceling of the Evening Session of City Council makes it more difficult to speak at Oral Communications for working people and creates tensions in cramming everything on to a single agenda. It also provides less time for public comment and Council debate.

Your scheduling of the March 22nd session again eliminates the Evening Session provides no time certain for Oral Communications (instead of holding it at 3 PM). The on-line agenda notes Oral Communications takes place at "6:30 p.m. or immediately following the Shingu Delegation Send-off Presentation," leaving those who want to speak with the need to sit through 3 1/2 hours of City Council meeting to be able to speak for three minutes.

I'd like to remind you did not hold Oral Communications as scheduled on the March 8 agenda. Supposedly to be held at 5:30 p.m. or the end of the agenda, whichever came first, it was not held until 6:35 p.m. I brought this matter to your attention in a Brown Act demand letter of March 10th, to which neither you nor the City Attorney have not yet replied.

I believe when your exclude or effectively muzzle the public, you not only violate the Brown Act, but require the public to resort to such costly and time-consuming measures as Initiative and Referendum. We have already seen this process at work in the Council's rush to pass the Santa Cruz Coast Hotel project.

Such a severe change in the rules regarding Public Comment for the Consent and Administrative Agendas need significant public notice, public hearings, and public discussion before it can be responsibly considered. You are moving in the wrong direction here. You need to be expanding public access to City Council, not restricting it.

Sincerely,
Robert Norse (423-4833)

* Section 5.4954.3(a) which provides “Every agenda for regular meetings shall provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the legislative body on any item of interest to the public, before ordering the legislative body's consideration of the item…?
Section 54954(c) which provides “The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body…?

Cc: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Santa Cruz Metro, Grand Jury, D.A. Bob Lee, San Jose Mercury News, Terry Franke, First Amendment Foundation, Good Times, Mid-County Post, City on a Hill Press
 
 


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Comments

Robert Is Awake, Is Anyone Else?

Robert,

THANK YOU for your vigilance with the Santa Cruz City Council and for catching Rotkin's deceptively worded proposition *before * it is passed.

Looks like it is time for citizens to call or email City Council members and let them know how they feel about this proposal. An appearance tonight at City Hall might even be more effective.


Mayor, Mike Rotkin
809 Center St., Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
423-4209 Residence
459-4601 Office
Email - mrotkin (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 28, 2006

Vice Mayor, Cynthia Mathews
316 Walnut Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
423-8977 Residence
Email - cmathews (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 28, 2006

Ryan Coonerty
321 Broadway, D-3
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
423-8939 Residence
Email - rcoonerty (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 25, 2008

Tim Fitzmaurice
809 Center Street, Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
459-2483 Office
Email - tfitzmaurice (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 28, 2006

Tony Madrigal
809 Center Street, Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
Email - tmadrigal (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 25, 2008

Ed Porter
809 Center Street, Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
427-0836 - Residence
Email - eporter (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 25, 2008

Emily Reilly
809 Center St., Room 10
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
420-5020 City Hall
429-9866 - Work
Email - ereilly (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
Term Expires: November 25, 2008
 

NOW - Tuesday's Board Meeting - 3:00 - 5:00 p.m.

If you are unable to go down to the board meeting, you can email the council and have it delivered to them RIGHT NOW during the meeting.

viewpoints (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us
 

Re: Rotkin's Council To Cut Back Public Comment

CORRECTION:

viewpoint (at) ci.santa-cruz.ca.us

(No "s" on viewpoint)
 

Re: Rotkin's Council To Cut Back Public Comment

Thanks, GJSB, for providing the e-mailing address during the Council session.

There is no evening session tonight, as there normally is. Rotkin eliminated it again, as he did earlier this month. So all business is taking place (at a time inconvenient for most working people) in the afternoon.

I just spoke with the City Council offices (4:05 pm.) and the Council is debating item #18 at this moment.

Folks can still comment in person during "Oral Communications", which should be coming up in the next hour.

Actually, Oral Communications is scheduled for 6:30 PM or at the end of the Council session, whichever comes sooner--another barrior to being able to comment, even after the fact, on what has gone down.

However concerned community members can still call a Councilmember and ask them to change their vote and bring it up for reconsideration at the next Council meeting. GFSB has thoughtfully provided the phone numbers.
 

Council voted 6-1 to cut back the public's right to comment

The vote was 6-1 to cut back public comment to speed up council meetings. In a ridiculous change to the rules, Rotkin posed that someone "could" pull all items off the consent agenda to talk about. The fact that no one has ever done so, and that the frequently referred to, but never mentioned by name, "offender", Robert Norse has only pulled a maximum of five items off agendas that typically have over 20 items, didn't stop 6 councilmembers from voting to reduce the ability of the public to participate in public meetings.

Three cheers for Councilmember Tim Fitzmaurice, who saw through this farce, and refused to go along and punish everyone just because Rotkin has such an aversion to hearing from a few members of the public.
 

Fitzmaurice--Hard to Know Whether to Cheer or Sneer

Maybe one and a half cheers for Fitzmaurice. He echoes the false argument that public comment by me and others has been somehow been sufficiently abusive to "raise a problem". Not so. Rotkin, like Kennedy, has used a variety of tactics to try to cut my public comment back (see my letter above)--something Fitzmaurice says nothing about.

Both these Mayors have regularly used high-handed suppression of public comment, agenda manipulation, and kowtowing to staff. It has not just denied the public legitimate access to the public debate, but wasted hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars. (Can anyone say "Santa Cruz Coast Hotel"?)

Fitzmaurice, we should remember, is the Green Party guru who has repeatedly betrayed the Green Party platform on civil rights restoration for the homeless. (The platform opposes laws that criminalize the homeless; Fitzmaurice has supported them from the Sleeping Ban to the Downtown Ordinances, to killing the Citizen's Police Review Board, and so on).

The City Council is currently in federal court because Fitzmaurice insisted that I be removed from Council chambers in 2002 when I raised my arm silently in a mock-Nazi salute after the Mayor prematurely cut off public comment on peace activist Susan Zeeman.

Fitzmaurice as Mayor was responsible for a bogus six-month long lawsuit against me and two other homeless activists when we peacefully lobbied him and other Councilmembers in the winter of 2001 to suspend the Sleeping Ban and/or expand shelter. The suit was ultimately dismissed as unjustified, but it banned us from ordinary assembly on City Hall property.

Fitzmaurice has never apologized or taken responsibility for any of these actions.

I describe Fitzmaurice, as I used to describe Ed Porter, as "the best of the worst". That is, given the grim line-up of repressive bureaucrats, timid politicians, and seasoned hypocrits that makes up the Council, Fitzmaurice, at least, in spite of his past abuses, tries on occasion to challenge the staff and registers the odd dissenting vote.

As Becky points out above in this case, his was the only vote against this wholesale and outrageous reduction of public comment.

In the course of the discussion, however, he indicated a willingness to go along with the emasculation of public comment for Consent Agenda items, but wanted to retain current (completely inadequate) rules for Administrative Agenda items.

Supporters of Ed Porter should not that he took responsibility for proposing this "muzzle the public" plan (or significant parts of it) to Rotkin. He preened that it had "worked quite well" two weeks before before when it was used to reduce my public comment by cramming my comment on three consent agenda items (normally 9 minutes) into one continuous five minute period.

The notion that the public is not supposed to talk on more than one or two consent and/or administrative agenda items shows a profoundly anti-democratic bent. It's the same arrogance that lets Rotkin and his fellow potentates assume they can talk for hours on subjects that they muzzle the public on.

I believe the new regulations violate the spirit of the Brown Act and are specifically directed against particular critics (myself primarily and secondarily Michael Tomasi). In so doing, they violate the two sections of the Brown Act mentioned above.

I encourage folks to express these concerns by calling Rotkin at 420-5020 and leaving a verbal message asking for a call-back. City Council can also be e-mailed at the addresses given above--asking for a reconsideration of the item(though City Clerk Leslie Cook denied receiving the letter that began this discussion, even though I sent it to all seven Councilmembers as wellas to the Council as a whole).

Folks might consider contacting the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury as well to establish a record of concerns.

I'd also be curious if anyone actually has any conversation with Fitzmaurice about this issue and whether he's interest in restoring public comment time. (420-5020)
 

Update on Council Crapola

The "Heil Krohn!" lawsuit, suing the City and the SCPD for falsely arresting me at City Council returns to federal court in San Jose Friday April 15th for case status. (I was arrested for refusing to leave Council after silently raising my hand in a "Heil" salute to the Council.)

Our side may amend the complaint to include more recent instances of Council repression.

Mayor Rotkin has so far refused to disclose his schedule of public appearances (which virtually all over public officials, state-wide, have done on request, after the passage of the state's Sunshine law expansion last November).

In a phone call I asked City Clerk Leslie Clerk yesterday morning to assure me that the public could comment on the City Manager's Oral Report on Budget Status Report as well as the Council Budget Task Force's Oral Report on the afternoon agenda.

I asked because the Reports were peculiarly placed as unnumbered items on the Council agenda at the end of the Consent Agenda (after item #20). In the past, Rotkin has capriciously ruled (depending on who wants to speak) that the public can speak on some unnumbered items, and can't speak on others.

Cook couldn't assure me that the public would be able to speak but promised to call me back after asking the Mayor. She never did.

Perhaps Mayor Rotkin is a bit sensitive to budget questions, having been spanked by the community in the Santa Cruz Coast Hotel boondoggle--after he and Kennedy led the charge to dole out $600,000+ to the Redevelopment Agency for consultant fast-track prep.

More broadly, Iin the last month Rotkin has--in effect--eliminated oral communications by canceling the evening sessions and then scheduling oral communications for "a time uncertain" (at the end of the session). On one occasion he arbitrarily put it ahead an hour from the scheduled time (as referred to above).
 

Rotkin Plays More Games With Public Comment

Rotkin has again canceled the evening session for today's City Council meeting (4-26) and scheduled Oral Communications, normally at 7 PM, for a time uncertain (5:30 PM or whenever the meeting ends, whichever comes sooner). To be sure of talking, you'll have to wait several hours.

Folks interested in my interview with him, which touchs on these public process issued towards the end, can go to www.huffsantacruz.org, click on "bathrobespierre's broadsides" and download the April 24th show. Then fast forward about an hour and a half (the total show is 3 1/2 hours long).

In that interview (and in communications from the City Clerk and the City Attorney), Rotkin announced his refusal to provide a copy of his calendar, either past or future.

Peter Sheer of the First Amendment Coalition [415-460-5060] recently advised me in a phone conversation that the intention of the Sunshine Initiative passed last November was to overrule court decisions of the early 90's which allowed mayors to withhold their calendars. He also said that no mayor has yet withheld his calendar on request--except, I guess, Rotkin.

Folks who want to ask Rotkin about his decision on this matter (as well as his cost-cutting measure of saving staff time by making it more difficult to speak at Oral Communications) can call him at 420-5023. That's a twenty-four hour message line, which he may occasionally answer if he's in the City Council offices.
 

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