By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- The Oxnard City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee continued its discussion about the city’s procedural manual update, March 12, as the group focused on how an item gets on an agenda, which is currently a cumbersome request.
The group also discussed the body’s mission statement in the manual, which City Attorney Stephen Fischer called a subject, not legal, issue for the body to weigh in on.
“I want to see the committee take a look at where we are going and discuss as we update the procedural manual,” he said.
Committee Member Gabriela Basua read the whole manual and said the mission statement is outdated.
“With two new people on the council, I believe the mission statement should reflect the views of the new council,” she said. “My recommendation is as a council we should look at the mission statement and see if it meets what that city’s vision is.”
She asked Fischer if the new Citizen Advisory Group wording will change to reflect the changes approved by the council.
Fischer said they would change the wording but told them to remember that the new arrangement is a “gentleperson’s agreement.”
“With the new district system, what’s been proposed is having council members appoint from their districts, individuals to those positions, and for the mayor to say here are the proposed choices, does the council approve,” he said. “The current language reflects the state law and puts that power into the mayor’s hands, subject to the council’s approval. We can put this district system we now have, but everyone needs to keep in mind that it’s still up to the mayor to appoint.”
Councilman Bert Perello said if the council goes with district appointments, can one council member say they are not following state law and challenge the whole process, does it fall to the majority of the council when it comes to challenging and enforcing state law?
“If a council member disagrees, then the council member can vote no,” Fischer said.
Perello said if the council member uses state law as a backup and it needs to be done the way it’s described, who is the boss in that instance?
“As long as the mayor agrees to consider requests by district, that complies with the law,” Fischer said.
City Manager Alex Nguyen said the way the city set up the CAGs for the council members, they can nominate applicants from their district, and they must work with the mayor.
“This is where we have our checks and balances that comply with the state rules here; it places the slate on the council agenda,” he said. “It’s up to the council to approve it or not.”
Flynn interjected that he has many conversations about the checks and balances as the mayor would nominate, then select, with the full approval of the council to the Citizen Advisory Groups.
“It could be argued there wasn’t enough of checks and balances there, and the council would approve,” he said. “Even under that scenario, if I had a member of the city council before district elections come to me with a recommendation for a person to be selected to a Citizen Advisory Group, I would do absolutely everything I could to honor that request.”
The change to Citizen Advisory Group nominees places the responsibility on individual council members, he said, and it’s still subject to whether or not Flynn puts it on the agenda.
“The state law intends to have checks and balances, and now it looks like we are distributing the responsibility across the council and trying to set the goal of selection of candidates from individual districts, which is a worthy objective and involves the council members more in the process,” he said.
From there, Perello asked about the items not generally in the scope of the City of Oxnard and the manual mentions council members who have four-year terms.
“Do we exclude the mayor because it is only a two-year term,” he asked.
Fischer said they would add a parenthetical clause acknowledging the mayor’s term is two years.
“We’re trying to clean it up,” Perello said.
For public comments, he said that the council should wait until it discusses the item.
“Information comes to the public that often is not in the staff report,” he said. “That handicaps the public from having an opportunity to speak on that specific item.”
Fischer said the manual reflects the typical order of business, which preserves the flexibility; given the presiding officer’s discretion and the needs of a particular item.
“On the same page, underneath information consent agenda, a removed (for discussion) information consent agenda item will be acted upon by the city council after the remainder of the information consent agenda,” Perello said. “That’s not how we do it.”
Fischer said the issues are procedural and don’t deal with accountability.
“If someone had an issue with it and said no, let’s get the business out of the way first that isn’t pulled and makes that point of order motion, the rest of the council can say yea, I see that,” he said. “Often, it’s I want to comment, and I am nothing on item three and have an observation, rather than having an issue with it. The solution could be that we change the wording of what you just read to how it’s practiced.”
Nguyen suggested staying flexible on consent agenda items.
“There is a difference between wanting to make a quick comment, versus pulling it for a presentation,” he said. “I would also request that we add to the information consent agenda may be removed for discussion at the request of a council member, mayor or city manager.”
He said at times; he needs the right to pull an item.
Per the Brown Act, Perello said a roll call vote needs to be taken and recorded for every action taken and it should be entered into the minutes.
“Sometimes we just take a consent, and I think we should get into the habit of taking a roll call vote,” he said. “If it ever comes to a head in terms of a dispute, at least there is a record of who stood where on what issue.”
Flynn said the issue has come up at the city council level when staff needs direction.
“It might be costly in terms of time to have a roll call vote every time we provide direction, and I know that is somewhat memorialized here,” he said.
Nguyen said the city is working on an electronic voting system and it will provide a record every time.
Fischer said that reflects a 2014 amendment to the Brown Act.
“All legislative bodies are to report any action publicly taken and the voter abstention on that action of each member present for the action,” he said. “An action taken in the Brown Act is defined as a collective decision made by a majority of the members of the legislative body on a motion, proposal, resolution or ordinance.”
So, when the council takes action, he said broad direction like “shall we close the public hearing,” and no one voices an objection, the city clerk can indicate that it is unanimous.
“A roll call vote in that instance, as the mayor points out, would slow down the process,” he said. “If there is an action to be taken on an agenda item, roll call votes are called, and that is reflective of what this law states.
This story will continue in the March 22, Tri County Sentry.
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