Last month, the Milpitas City Council pushed forward on the Council’s updated Rules Subcommittee, an effort which has been spearheaded by Vice Mayor Karina Dominguez. To date, Dominguez and Mayor Rich Tran have met twice to lay the groundwork for the Subcommittee.
The City of Milpitas last had a Rules Subcommittee when Jose Esteves was Mayor and Tom Williams was City Manager, during which time it was discontinued. In recent days, however, Vice Mayor Dominguez has highlighted a strong need to bring it back. The Subcommittee exists to provide an efficient means by which City Councilmembers can determine agenda items for their meetings. Absent this mechanism, such agenda items are set by the City Manager, creating potential gaps between the desires of voters and the Council’s work.
Vice Mayor Dominguez explained her connection to the issue in an interview with The Milpitas Beat: “I first became aware of this issue when I was following the issues we were having with former City Manager Tom Williams. I noticed we had a lack of transparency in our city because community members didn’t have the ability to see the process of how items got placed on the agenda for upcoming meetings. That’s when I decided to run for office. And I made it a priority to make sure that we would bring back the Rules Subcommittee, not only because it’s written in our charter, but because I knew the importance of what the Rules Subcommittee meant, due to my past experience — which meant transparency for those that live in Milpitas and it meant equity for those who represent the City of Milpitas. And therefore I made it a goal of mine to make sure not only to bring back the Rules Subcommittee, in its existence, but also reform the way it was written to ensure that it was gonna address the needs of our community and those that we serve.”
Regarding the past experience she’d mentioned, Dominguez added, “As a staff member when I used to work for a Councilmember in the City of San Jose, I understood the importance of what the Rules Subcommittee meant for a city, for the jurisdiction. The Rules Subcommittee really sets the agenda to the items that are going to be heard and are going to be voted [on] by the leadership of that jurisdiction. Basically what that means is, if we have an issue, and we have a solution, then a Councilmember could place it on the agenda. But it needs to go through a process which is determined in the Rules Subcommittee.”
In one recent public meeting, City Attorney Christopher Diaz explained a process by which Councilmembers could fill out a form (never independently; always in the company of at least one fellow Councilmember), which then goes to the City Manager, after which it reaches the Rules Subcommittee, where the City Attorney reviews it before making it a Council agenda item.
Said Councilmember Bob Nuñez at the June 18 City Council meeting, “One of the things that I think [the Subcommittee] allows for is a little more discussion, so there’s at least two persons up here that understand in depth a little bit more about those kinds of things that are being requested.”
By design, the Subcommittee does not prevent agenda items from reaching Council meetings; rather, it exists to serve as a mode of facilitation.
Dominguez has long been persistent in ensuring that such facilitation occurs: “When I started asking questions to the City of Milpitas, I found out that the City Manager and our former Mayor just stopped these meetings. And the way that things were getting agendized was simply by who had the best relationship with the City Manager. And the full authority to agendize items really came from the City Manager, not the leadership of the City.”
This meant too much power was in the hands of Milpitas’ City Manager, irregardless of which given individual fulfilled the role. Dominguez thus sought a renewed (or in her word, “rebranded”) Subcommittee, one marked by (a) transparency, (b) a reasonable use of available city resources, and (c) sustainability, meaning it will be strong enough to last long after her term is over.
The Rules Subcommittee remains a work in progress, and will be evolving and further materializing in the months to come.