In an effort to streamline often clogged council agendas and long meetings, on December 18 the Anaheim City Council voted to change how councilmembers agendize items for consideration.
Under the new policy, a councilmember will need the assent of at least two colleagues to agendize an item for council consideration; previously, council policy allowed for any councilmember to direct staff to prepare anything for council consideration, simply by making their request during the councilmember comments portion of the meeting. The mayor will retain the power to unilaterally place items on the council agenda.
The reform was brought requested by Mayor Harry Sidhu. Whenever councilmembers direct an item to be agendized, city staff devote time and resources to preparing the item for council consideration. The concern has been staff resources being consumed on behalf of items that have little or no chance of council adoption. Earlier in 2018, Councilman James Vanderbilt made a similar attempt to raise the threshold for placing matters on the council agenda.
“At issue is how we conduct the people’s business in the most efficient manner, while still allowing robust debate and allocating staff time in the most efficient manner in order to get done all that we need to do,” said Sidhu.
“If an item is suggested to the agenda that not even two councilmembers believes warrants discussion, then we ought to keep our time and our city staff focused on items that will have an impact and move the city forward.”
“Mr. Mayor, like you I am committed to giving deference to individuals who may have a district-specific issue,” said District 6 Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who mentioned an initial concern about the potential for limiting the ability of councilmembers to bring items for council consideration. However, O’Neil also noted that councilmembers have the ability, within the confines of the Brown Act, to talk to their colleagues in order to secure support for full council discussion of an issue. He also pointed out councilmembers have plenty of avenues for airing public discussion of issues of interest.
“What we’re talking about here is not just limiting discussion,” said O’Neil. “It’s about limiting discussion and resources on issues that may potentially be dead on arrival.”
“We’re a big city, and we’re a busy city. And we all know that our agendas are often packed with items and our meetings can go wel into the night,. And I don’t think that is simply the democratic process at work – it’s a drain on staff resources and a drain on the public’s time.
“I think, Mr. Mayor that this is smart and efficient, and the right thing to do in order to streamline our meetings and make the best use of staff’s time and move forward with the city’s business,” said O’Neil.
Councilmembers Denise Barnes and Moreno both objected to Sidhu’s proposal.
“I can see allowing a need for a second in the interests of saving staff time,” said Barnes. “Needing three votes to get an idea on the agenda seems oppressive to members of the minority. ”
As an alternative, Moreno suggested that councilmembers “police themselves” and expressed concern about the number of times the agendizing policy had been changed during the last several years.
“I think in a district environment, I was elected to represent an area, and I don’t think it would be appropriate for councilmembers to suppress the voice of a geography of the city,” said Moreno, who supported Barnes’ suggestion of a simple second to agendize an item for council consideration.
Moreno’s and Barnes’s comments were an interesting contrast to their action while members of the council majority. When District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel offered a carefully constructed plan for transitioning city commission’s to district-based appointments without sacrificing the institutional knowledge of existing commissioners, Moreno and Barnes opted instead to fire every city commissioner and start them over from scratch.
Neither Barnes nor Moreno objected when Mayor Tom Tait tabled an SB 54-related time agendized by Councilwoman Lucille Kring, in order to suppress any discussion of it.
Ultimately, the council voted 4-3 to approve the policy change, with Sidhu, Kring, O’Neil and Fassell voting “Yes” and District 2 Councilman Jordan Brandman joining Barnes and Moreno in opposition.