I am alarmed by the assault of our right to free speech at Public Forums at City Council Meetings. Especially in light of issues and changes in public forum procedures due to COVID, the City Manager, City Attorney, City Council and Staff should be going out of their way to help residents’ access to Public Forum comments, not set up road blocks to free speech. Instead they have done the following:
- Refused to read a public comment at the last Council Meeting (9/15/20) because they claimed it was submitted improperly, even though they had the public comment in their possession at the time when comments were read.
- At last night’s meeting (9/29/20) the City Clerk stated that she is providing City Attorney prior review of public comments. It’s outrageous for the City Attorney to be allowed to review/censor public comments. They are taking advantage of COVID related issues. No one was ever allowed to check public comments before the Council forced residents to submit comments over the internet.
- City Attorney’s office stated that Council is not required to read public comments not related to agenda item. IN EVERY OTHER MEETING IN THE HISTORY OF THE CITY IT CLEARLY STATES THAT PUBLIC FORUM IS ONLY FOR ITEMS NOT ON THE AGENDA, even though the Special Meeting exemption has been there for years.
- Is the City Manager responsible for implementing this procedural change? The City Clerk works for him. The City Manager clearly stated last night that this procedure had never been done before. Yet the public was never informed of the changes.
- The Council failed the residents! The City Attorney stated it “was not required” to read the comments. Therefore, the Council had the option and should have demanded that comments be read that night. They failed to serve the public.
Other than a few casual comments in regard to what people have read on Next Door and Facebook, I have no idea what these comments are focused upon; but if they are hostile to City Council or staff this is even more concerning. Residents have a right and an obligation to speak up with any concerns.
Note that the City, according the California Open Meeting requirements, is now actually following the rules & procedures for special meetings. But I believe the City Manager should have announced this change to the public prior to the meeting and explained it on the agenda. I keep hearing more and more from city staff that impediments to public record requests, refusal to meet with constituents (I am one of them), and a general attitude of “we know better than the residents” is being forced upon them.
We residents need to demand that the City implement the Public Forum procedures already in use at the County that allow residents to speak/read their own comments. The technology is readily available if the Council wants to serve the public.