By Roz Rogoff
A is for AgendaUploaded: Dec 8, 2011
Twenty years ago I wanted to be a mystery writer. I actually had the nerve to phone Sue Grafton (author of the Alphabet mysteries), and ask her for help getting my first book published. She gave me good advice on how to improve my writing, but I insisted my book was perfect. After receiving numerous rejection letters, I realized Sue Grafton was right.
Now I'm writing about the mystery of the San Ramon City Council Agenda. Fortunately no one gets murdered in it, but how items get onto the City Council Agenda is still a mystery to me. This is an old mystery that goes back at least as long as I've been making speeches in Public Comment at City Council meetings. That's about 10 years.
There's an instruction in the Agenda that Mayor Abram Wilson always read before Public Comment.
"Those wishing to have an item brought before the City Council for consideration must request so during a City Council meeting. Upon Council approval, the item will be placed on the Council Policy Committee Agenda for further consideration."
One of the mysteries in this instruction is how can the Council approve the item for the Policy Committee Agenda, if the item isn't on the Council Agenda? The Council cannot vote on or discuss an item that isn't on its published agenda unless it is an emergency. So if someone asks to have an item put onto an upcoming Council agenda, who approves it for the Policy Committee Agenda?
The Policy Committee is a subcommittee of the City Council. Subcommittees like this are made up of only two Council members. Because they are not a quorum and cannot vote on issues, subcommittee meetings are not covered by the Brown Act. Still the Policy Committee Agendas are posted on the City's website under Meetings and Notices .
Dave Hudson and Carol Rowley have been on the Policy Committee for the last several years. The Committee meets the fourth Wednesday of the month at 4 pm in the conference room at City Hall. I've attended several Policy Committee meetings over the last 10 years. I am usually the only resident there. While subcommittee meetings are open to the public, they are scheduled at a time when most people cannot attend.
The last Policy Committee meeting I attended was in July when the Committee discussed reactivation of the Open Space Committee and adding a resident to the committee. This was requested by Jim Gibbon in Public Comment at a previous City Council meeting. Councilmember Carol Rowley wanted to discuss it too.
I can't recall too many times when someone requests something in Public Comment and it actually goes to the Policy Committee. Maybe it does more often than I recall, but unless the requester is monitoring the Policy Committee Agendas every month, or calls the city for a follow up, they are not notified their item will be on the Policy Committee Agenda.
I personally have found that requesting something be put on an Agenda, or considered by the City Council, is like shouting into a dark cave. Nothing comes back, not even an echo.
It's not always clear what constitutes a request for Council consideration in Public Comment. Six years ago I asked the Council to consider switching our Animal Control from the Contra Costa County shelter in Martinez to the East County Animal Shelter (ECAS) in Dublin.
I did not hear back from the City Council about this request, but I heard from someone else. "I received an email from Bill Clarkson, who has also worked with animal rescue groups finding homes for dogs and cats. He wanted to know what we could do to change our Animal Control from Contra Costa County to our own city Animal Control." That's a quote from a commentary I wrote on my original San Ramon Observer website five years ago.
I later found out what happened to my request about ECAS. I was at a Chamber lunch sitting next to Sgt. Paul O'Mary. I asked him about San Ramon switching to Dublin for Animal Control and he told me Alameda Country has different Animal Control laws and fees from Contra Costa County, so we could not contract with them. If I hadn't asked Sgt. O'Mary this, I probably still wouldn't know why.
So what I'd like to propose at the next City Council meeting on December 13th, is to change the way items are requested for City Council consideration. In the first place it shouldn't be limited to asking in Public Comment at a Council Meeting. As we know, not everyone has time to attend City Council meetings and not everyone wants to speak in public. That should be one avenue for consideration by the Council, but an email, a letter, or even the City's Online Contact Us system should be available for this kind of Request.
One good feature of the Contact Us system is it creates a formal request ticket that goes to someone on Staff and requires follow up. When the City first introduced this system I asked that requests made in Public Comment be added to the Online Request system for follow up. So far they are not. All requests should be followed up, even if just to say, we looked into it and it cannot be done because of xyz.
If a request is put on a Policy Committee Agenda, the requester should be notified and invited to the Policy Committee meeting. Perhaps the meetings should be rescheduled to make it easier for requesters to attend them. At the very least the requester should be informed about the decision of the Committee, yea or nay, and given a reason why. Perhaps they could be given until the next Policy Committee meeting to appeal a rejection, or at least meet with a Councilmember or Staff on the reasons it was rejected and what the requester could do to the change the request to make it more acceptable.
The Council shouldn't have to waste time on a bunch of junky requests, but there should be a better way for residents who want something considered by the City Council to request it and know whether or not it is being considered and if not why not.