As another of its notoriously long meetings approached midnight, the West Hollywood City Council yesterday decided not to endorse a proposal by Mayor Lauren Meister to take steps to shorten them.
The council members did, however, acknowledge that meetings have become exceptionally long and that they should act to end them earlier and allow more comments from residents who attend those meetings. Residents have complained that they can’t stay through the lengthy meetings to address items on the agenda that affect them. Last night three people who stayed until midnight to speak on a proposed ordinance regarding seismic retrofitting for buildings were surprised to find it tabled at the last minute to a future meeting after having waited nearly six hours.
Councilmember John d’Amico noted that the council had cancelled one of its two monthly meetings in every month since August, sometimes because they were scheduled on a holiday and sometimes because one or another council member could not be present. The council traditionally meets on the first and third Mondays of each month, beginning with a closed session at 6 p.m. and open to the public at 6:30 p.m. Going forward, D’Amico said, the council should commit to 20 meetings a year, holding them even if a particular council member can’t attend. He said the cancellations have made each meeting 60 to 70% longer.
Councilmember John Heilman said “a lot of the problems with the length of our meetings has to do with how long we are talking…”
“I also think we have a tendency to micromanage staff,” Heilman said, an apparent allusion to Meister’s habit of grilling city staff members about the details of various items on the council’s consent agenda that typically would have been approved in a unanimous vote without discussion.
Meister said one problem was the large number of items put on the consent agenda by city staffers. “If we need to have that many items, we need to have an extra meeting,” she said, adding that she would support a third meeting a month. In her proposal, Meister had asked that formal acknowledgements of the deaths of local residents and celebrities be made at the end of the meeting and that the council limit itself to one formal presentation a month. She asked that the public comment session be extended from 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
Councilmember John Duran also said the council members have themselves to blame. “I think the problem is ourselves,” he said. “It’s a matter of self-policing.”
Councilmember Lindsey Horvath noted that making it possible for more residents to speak would make council meetings longer, but she said that restricting that speech “means that people contribute less, and I don’t think we want to do that.”
The notion that the council members themselves are responsible for the very long meetings was echoed by Dan Morin, a local resident who was one of the last people not a city employee who remained in the Council Chambers. Morin said council members should limit their talk during the council member comment period to five minutes.
Heilman proposed that the council postpone acting on the issue for six months to see if resuming its twice-monthly schedule would improve the situation. City Clerk Yvonne Quarker also recommended streaming announcements of city meetings on the video screen behind the council dais instead of having council members take time to call them out. Both proposals were supported unanimously.
This has been a problem for years and years. By law, and under the Brown Act, small new incorporated Cities operated and didn’t communicate with residents and kept them in the dark for personal gains. The bi-weekly (I think, not sure on that specific) public meetings are required by law, and although it was meant in the creation of this law long after the laws and the numerous incorporations in CA (the early 1960’s was the start of the ‘business of creating a city’ began … My firm and the predecessors who have passed away but the law firm continues,… Read more »
I have watched many meetings on WeHo TV. I agree that Meister does micromanage and asks staff too many questions during the meetings. This could be done in a memo before meeting time. Even with outside careers, the Council members know what they were getting into when they ran. The agenda is posted beforehand. Everybody else on the Council is ready to vote on issues before it except Meister, who has a zillion questions on every issue.
Additionally, when the administration is bogged down, log jams easily pop up. The collective antennae of the city ceases to be alert. For instance, developers find opportunities to bend the rules as that is their one and only objective. Big example=Townscape in its 8899 Beverly Blvd. project and Weho’s lost opportunity to effectively advocate for the residents in 8150 Sunset. The micromanagement was MIA. Plus having built in facilitators doesn’t help either.
This meeting illustrates that we have gone beyond the tipping point. Each council member should have come to the meeting with a list of solutions they were willing to take personal responsibility. Scheduling a “catch up”meeting which would automatically occur makes sense when the agenda has clearly overrun sensible parameters for deliberation. As it stands one can’t catch up for time lost and additional overload will exponentially worsen the situation. Last night was the council at its indecisive best…..or worst. BTW Mayor Meister’s alleged micromanagement is the result of having skipped through the tulips for too long and now the… Read more »
The relative length of the meetings preclude a large portion of our population from participating, as disabled and seniors have to take into account, schedules that keep them stable, safety, transportation and other concerns that might be taken for granted by ordinary residents!
It would seem to me that TWO not ONE meeting is required. I know the Council Members have lives and careers and are not paid for their extensive time spent on our behalf but be reasonable. Give time to talk John, instead of backroom discussions, give people a chance to speak (instead of limiting available time). Just a thought.