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By Roz Rogoff

Waiting to speak in Public Comment

Uploaded: May 15, 2011

Those of you who followed the "San Ramon Observer" for the many years I've been writing about and speaking at City Council Meetings know I regularly attend meetings and frequently have something to say in Public Comment. I am not happy with the recent rescheduling of Public Comment from the beginning of the meeting to the end of the meeting.

I've been planning to write something in my blog here about the change to Public Comment from Item 6 on the City Council Meeting Agenda to Item 12. Jim Gibbon's comments on my last blog on Grand Jury Report 1104 gave me the perfect opportunity to fill in the blanks about why Public Comment was moved and why Jim Gibbon is responsible for it being at the end of the meetings now.

Here's an excerpt of what Gibbon wrote in my last blog entry on Grand Jury Report 1104:

"Two years ago the council was fond of complaining that no one came to the council meeting. Now they complain that people come only to complain about how the council is not licensing (sic) to them. This council is schizophrenic about having residents questioning their power and secrecy.

About two months ago the council got so frantic about complaints that they changed the agenda of council meeting to put the Public Comment portion of the meeting to the end of the session. By that time no one is ever there."

I couldn't find it in the minutes but I recall Kevin L'Hommedieu requested moving Public Comment later in the meetings because he said it was difficult for a working person or business owner to finish work, go home, clean up, eat dinner, and make it to the meetings in time to speak in Public Comment. I believe he said that when he spoke in Public Comment at the November 9, 2010 Council Meeting. However, Public Comment was still Item 6 on November 23, 2010 when I spoke at that meeting about TV30's delay in broadcasting meetings.

The Agenda for the December 14, 2010 meeting shows Public Comment as Item 6, but the Minutes of the meeting say, "Public Comment deferred until after New Business." Carol Lopez, Jim Gibbon, Kevin L'Hommedieu, and I were the speakers in the deferred Public Comment that night.

According to the minutes of the January 11, 2011 Council Meeting, Jim Gibbon, ". . . stated his objections to having Public Comment moved to the end of the Council agenda. He feels that having the Public Comment at the end of the meeting is more reclusive. Mayor Wilson stated that the change was made in response to residents' comments requesting Public Comment later in the agenda. The change was made to better serve residents. Mr. Gibbon asked the Council to track resident participation. He noted that some speakers will not wait to the end of the meeting and suggested that the Council rethink this change."

As of now Public Comment is still Item 12 on the Agenda. I, like Gibbon, would like to see it moved back to the earlier position, but I at least remember the real reason the Council now wants to keep it between the City Manager's Comments and Councilmember Reports.

At the October 26, 2010 City Council Meeting Gibbon got into an argument with Councilmember Dave Hudson when Hudson tried to answer something Gibbon said in Public Comment. Here is the description from the Minutes of that meeting.

"Jim Gibbon, representing San Ramon for Open Government and No on Measure [W, stated that Measure W rezones the North Camino Ramon area to mixed use without proper study. He feels it is an attempt to drive land prices up which will push tenants and landowners out. He stated that Measure W is bad for San Ramon. He stated that if Measure W fails, the current General Plan 2020 will continue for ten years. Cm. Hudson requested to speak. Mr. Gibbon objected to Cm. Hudson's comments under Public Comments. He requested that those comments be presented at the appropriate time. Vice Mayor Rowley asked for direction from City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner. She stated that the presiding Mayor Pro Tem can decide to take matters on the agenda out of order. Cm. Hudson deferred his comments to Councilmember Reports. Vice Mayor Rowley stated that it is appropriate for Council to clarify information under Public Comment."

When Gibbon asked the Council to move Public Comment back to its earlier time at the January 11, 2011 meeting, Councilmembers Hudson and Rowley replied that they wanted to keep it where it is. Here's what they said under "COUNCILMEMBER REPORTS" from the minutes of the January 11, 2011 meeting.

"Cm. Hudson stated that he does not see a problem changing the Public Comment to later in the agenda. This allows the Council an opportunity to respond to questions or issues raised in Public Comment. He noted that the Council can take no action on either Public Comment or Council Comments. He noted that other Boards organize their agendas with Public Comment at the end and suggested that the Council try it.

Cm. Rowley noted that, in the previous format, when questions were raised under Public Comment, the Council could not respond. She suggested that the Council try this as a compromise."

So at least according to the Council's reasoning this wasn't because, "They are becoming paranoid about their on (sic) power," as Gibbon characterized it in his reply to my blog.

Personally I don't like to wait to say what I want to say. I don't use notes when I speak, but I rehearse what I plan to say in my head and sometimes I mutter and talk to myself whether alone or in public. Yes I'm one of those people.

I was waiting to say something about tearing down Mudd's Restaurant at the March 8, 2011 City Council Meeting. I kept building it up in my mind, like Danny Thomas' old Jack Story. If you are not old enough to remember that routine, Thomas told the story of a man in the desert with a flat tire and no jack. While he's walking back to a gas station to borrow a jack, he's thinking about what the gas station owner might say or do; so by the time he gets there he's so pent up with his imaginary scenario he explodes and says, "You can take your stinkin' jack and shove it . . ."

It's a lot funnier than my summary here, but while I was waiting for Public Comment I was building up to "shove the jack," in my mind. So I put in a speaker card on the Public Hearing for the Harlan House just to get up and say something, but then went into a rant about Mudd's. Ah, very embarrassing. I finally agreed the Harlan House should be saved too, but at least it let me vent without waiting another hour for Public Comment to commence.

So should Public Comment be brought back to the beginning of the meeting or kept at the end. Some of you might agree with Gibbon and some might see the rationale of placing Public Comment right before Councilmember Reports as perfectly reasonable. Whichever side you take you should let the Council know, and they might move it back or might continue to ". . . keep it close to the vest by controlling every aspect of power," as Jim Gibbon believes.