OPINION: ‘Midnight Democracy’ by Steve Martin

At their last meeting, the City Council was once again, burning the midnight oil. An item in support of local hotel workers that would provide them with some pretty basic protections, was not taken up until the end of the agenda. Council member John D’Amico, who had earlier in the evening unsuccessfully requested that the item be continued, checked out of the Zoom meeting saying he had to be at work at 5:00 a.m.

As D’Amico signed off, his colleague, John Erickson apparently could not resist firing a parting shot.

“I was elected to serve and represent the city. I understand he has different priorities but I’m here until whenever we got to go” Erickson announced.

For the record, I was one of the many people who had sent in comments in support of the hotel workers and I fully support this item that was bought forward by Lindsey Horvath and Sepi Shyne. Despite the controversy, I believe that this item actually reflects the values of both the residences and our hospitality industry. But I digress.

Like most people, I had a problem with Erickson’s statement. It is not clear whether his comment was merely a gratuitous swipe at a colleague who perhaps had a different view of the agenda item or it was simply another instance of gratuitous self congratulation. But rather than making himself appear heroic, he unwittingly raised the issue as to why the Council was taking up an important item at such a late hour.

While I understand that there are times that meetings need to run late but our City Council meetings regularly run past midnight. I question that the Council members are doing anyone a favor, particularly our residents, by making decisions in the middle of the night.

Back in the Neolithic when I was elected to the City Council, meetings regularly ended at 1:00 a.m. or later. Often I did not get to sleep until three in the morning, which was tough when I had to make a Court appearance at 8:30 a.m. in Long Beach or Ventura. But the Council members all operated under the deluded belief we were demonstrating our dedication to our constituents by laboring long into the night.

Jeanne Dobrin made a habit to stay to the bitter end, often reminding us that she was the only member of the public in the room. Her remarks certainly drew our attention to the fact that we were in the paradoxical position of making public policy without any meaningful public input.

Given that many of us had actually been involved in the incorporation of West Hollywood, our late night agendas called into question the very reason we fought to become a City. The whole point of incorporation was to give the residents an opportunity to be heard and participate in their municipal government. Midnight meetings effectively deprive most residents of their opportunity to participate in the supposedly “public” process.

Council member Sal Guarriello took the initiative to propose that we create agendas that would conclude by 11:00 p.m. By starting our meetings at 6:30 p.m. we generally were able to finish by eleven. Sometimes we had to schedule special meetings or study sessions, but we found that not only did we have better public participation, the Council meetings were actually more effective. We were not making decisions while fighting to stay awake.

The City Council needs to work with staff to start creating more manageable agendas. Meetings should end around 11:00 p.m. and have a drop dead time of midnight. The City Manager should be empowered to reschedule agenda items to keep the meetings manageable. The City Council needs to be more disciplined and cut the endless presentations that delay the start of the meetings. Presentations should end at 7 p.m. when the Council should start the business portion of the meeting.

If these changes mean we have to schedule more Council meetings, then so be it. The business of the people needs to be conducted at time convenient for the people, not what is convenient for staff or Council members. Midnight democracy is not democracy at all.

Steve Martin is a former West Hollywood City Councilmember.

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JPM
JPM
5 months ago

Thank you Steve for staying engaged. This current council is out for themselves not us.

Tracy
Tracy
5 months ago

The meetings were one hour earlier and Lauren Meister asked to have the meetings start later.

meister4weho
meister4weho
5 months ago
Reply to  Tracy

Hi Tracy, Our in-person meetings actually started at 6:30 pm. When COVID forced Council to meet via teleconference, meetings were changed to 5:30 pm start. Unfortunately, that meant if there was a Closed Session, it needed to start at 5 pm. Some people are just finishing work at 5 pm, leaving no time to feed/walk dogs, gulp down dinner, etc. I asked for a compromise — starting teleconferenced meetings at 6 pm, rather than 5:30, and closed session at 5:30 pm, instead of 5 pm — not only to accommodate council members, but the public as well. I agree the… Read more »

Michael
Michael
5 months ago

The meetings go on too long because a lot of the council members have major agendas. Which is to pitch stuff that has nothing to do with anything except their own grandstanding. I had a house in Palm springs, was their part-time, and I would watch City Council’s meeting sometimes … basically because they were involved with City business issues. That I had an interest in. PS obviously has a large gay population but the meetings were usually just about business. There wasn’t an hour of recounting what they were doing during the week. Because they all worked. And had… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by Michael
Tracy
Tracy
5 months ago

Steve you are so right. I’d vote for you again except it would be more of the same old news and you are anti business and anti development.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
5 months ago
Reply to  Tracy

Thanks! It is the thought that counts.

Vigilent
Vigilent
5 months ago
Reply to  Tracy

What we need is a thoughtful approach regarding business…reestablish a healthy urban small business community balanced by a large dose of thoughtful development incorporating Adaptive Reuse and a firm bridge between Development & Historic Preservation. Erasing the landscape without cognitive consideration and inviting cash cows to land in West Hollywood is unconscionable, not to mention the concept of an off kilter Climate Action Plan that is mostly a Show Pony. Legitimately invite and engage the community(s) into the plan in a more authentic way not simply use the current mechanisms to keep residents busy , worn out and ultimately out… Read more »

Manny
Manny
5 months ago

“policy without any meaningful public input”, you mean like the pushed through and under the radar Robertson Closure?

Yes, I agree, these meeting are going too long. Weho City Council is a part-time job and council members (and the public) have real jobs that they have to get to in the morning. I don’t blame JDA for leaving.

Cut the presentations, nobody cares. Be concise, don’t talk too much. Don’t ask questions that are already explained in the staff reports and schedule items that you know will be of most interest to the public first on the agenda. Easy.

carl.crnin
5 months ago

Sage (sorry Steve) advice. The public must be engaged at a time when it can be more awake to the Council happenings. When I was able to attend Council meetings, I could never stay beyond 11 PM as the process became sleep-inducing. How do other part-time Councils conduct their meetings? Perhaps we can learn from others…?

Arthur.
Arthur.
5 months ago

Absolutely agree. First of all, the Erickson’s “Teacher’s Pet like” comments were insulting and disrespectful. Albeit immature, they are nothing more than political grandstanding. Out of respect to residents who are waiting to have time to comment on meaningful issues (at a reasonable hour of the night) all presentations and adjournments should be made at the end of the meeting, and let the people’s business be taken care of as a priority. Thereafter, there can a time for snarky comments while the rest of us go to bed. I suspect that once the council meeting are once again held in… Read more »

Randy
Randy
5 months ago
Reply to  Arthur.

I don’t think presentations should be moved to the end of the meeting. Those are often people earning awards. You think it is any more fair to keep them until 12.30 AM to earn a public award, especially when nobody is watching? All of that said, I agree with Steve. I watch almost every meeting. Monday’s meeting dragged on super long because of the Palm Ave project. Not every meeting is like that, and it was perfectly fine for D’Amico to request to table some items (he did not abruptly leave).

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