City Council Rules! (Of Procedure)

In yet another contentious Longmont City Council meeting on October 21, there was one bit of irony I couldn’t let slip by. Councilmember Sarah Levison brought up City Council RULE 19: RECONSIDERATION in opposition to a motion Gabe Santos made which would effectively reverse a motion she made the previous week.

The rule reads: After the decision on any question, any member who voted with the prevailing side may move to reconsider the decision at the same meeting or at the next meeting at which Rule 25 permits final or official action on the subject question. Rule 25 spells out when there will be meetings, whether they’re regular or study session, and public postings of these meetings and their agendas.

At the September 23 regular session meeting, City Manager Gordon Pedrow told council they had a decision to make about a meeting on November 4 (Election Day) or November 11 (Veterans Day). Council voted to have an early and abbreviated meeting on November 4. The minutes for that meeting aren’t available yet, and Mayor Lange said it passed but didn’t say if it was unanimous or not. Ms. Levison said “I do not want to meet on Veterans Day”, so it’s assumed she voted for November 4. So she may have well voted with the “prevailing side”, as Rule 19 specifies.

But, on October 14, Ms. Levison brought this issue up again and tried to get council to reconsider having a meeting on Veterans Day, stating that she didn’t know that not having it then meant having it Thanksgiving week. Two problems with this: first, Mr. Pedrow stated during his comments on September 23 as they were considering this, that this indeed would mean a meeting during “Thanksgiving week”. Secondly, when she brought it up for reconsideration, it wasn’t during the same meeting or even the next meeting. Did she violate the very rule she was trying to use for her own purposes?

Granted, it may be debatable that a meeting date is a final or official action. But since this decision, it has been posted on subsequent agendas that the November 11 meeting has been cancelled. Either way, Ms. Levison went back on her earlier statement, and I could not find a single councilmember who spoke in favor of meeting on Veterans Day. So why bring it back up for reconsideration?

What Mr. Santos wanted reconsideration of was a questionable vote last week where two councilmembers abstained from voting. City Attorney Clay Douglas made an on-the-spot decision involving this issue, which he now seems to be reversing, which changes everything and should make that earlier vote invalid. So, in reality, this is not a reconsideration at all. It’s a clarification and correction.

This is an undecided item and might get resolved behind closed doors next week at yet another Executive Session. By Mr. Santo’s count, this should be the 21st of these types of “closed to the public” meetings.

That must be a record, and not one to be proud of. The new councilmembers promised a more open and accessible governing body when they ran for election. This staggering amount of closed door meetings proves, beyond any doubt, the contrary.

LA017: BoCo Fair Parade, bronx cheers for progressive council members, Benker tantrums, and “fringe” festival

LA-w-ChrisAugust 17, 2008 Show

Even by Wiser Time
Vote! Longmont at the Boulder Co Fair Parade
I Love A Parade

Hallelujah by 38 Acres
Union Annexation heads to Firestone Ballot
City Attorney Clay Douglas “retires” Continue reading

LA007: Butterball, inappropriate city attorney, water restrictions, and Global Warnings

LA-w-ChrisMay 25, 2008 Show

Oxygen by Dusty Hughes

Update on Clyde Ioerger vs. Butterball
at Transportation Advisory Board and
Planning and Zoning Meetings Continue reading

Inappropriate Conduct

At the May 13, 2008 Longmont City Council Meeting, there was a snafu during the Public Invited To Be Heard portion. For some reason, one of the speakers who signed up to speak, Richard Yale, was not called up at the appropriate time. To his credit, Mayor Lange, once made aware of this mistake, stopped the council meeting and re-opened Public Invited to correct this, and Mr. Yale had his turn to speak.

During Public Invited, people can speak to just about anything they wish, including green cheese on the moon if they like. Recent council meetings have been long, and often entire agenda items are postponed. While it is best to speak to a public hearing item during that hearing, given the recent nature of meetings, and the possibility people have lives and can’t stick around all night, there is nothing stopping someone from speaking on an upcoming public hearing item during Public Invited.

In this situation though, one mistake was already made in regards to Mr. Yale’s ability to address City Council. But when he did speak he clearly stated he was in favor of the public hearing items they were to discuss later, and wanted to address a different issue. The parcel of land he spoke to was not the same as the land that was part of the public hearing to be held later. He made it fairly clear he was talking about the land near Weld County Roads 5 and 26, which he read into the record the Weld County Commissioners letter talking specifically about this land and this annexation. There is a point to this, read on.

How often after Public Invited do you hear a councilmember reference the speaker? Not very often. It’s rarer still to hear City Attorney Clay Douglas do it. But immediately after Mr. Yale spoke, Mr. Douglas laughed a little and said: ” Your rules and procedures say that you talk at public invited to be heard on any item that’s not scheduled for a public hearing. And the last speaker basically just talked about something scheduled for a public hearing. A better time to do that would be when the public hearing begins.” Mayor Lange responded with “you’re right” or “you’re correct”. Well, no, he isn’t.

If Mr. Douglas can’t tell the difference between the land that was part of the public hearing (that’s south of Hwy 119), and the land Mr. Yale spoke of and the Weld County Commissioners wrote the city about (that’s north of Hwy 119), well, that would explain the needless stalemate the city is in with Firestone, Lifebridge, and Weld County. And like I said, Mr. Yale made the effort to say he was in support of the vote they were about to take, and took. I didn’t hear Mr. Douglas complain about 5 speeches in one night about prairie dogs (by the same person), why would this be any different? Well, there is a reason.

Mr. Yale was one of the ones who pointed out Mr. Douglas’s inappropriate behavior with the anti-Lifebridge annexation folks at a recent Firestone Board of Trustee‘s meeting, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Douglas is aware of this. But he picked the wrong time and the wrong issue to get some payback. How often do you see someone from City Council or Staff publicly try to humiliate a citizen during a televised council meeting? Don’t just take my word for it, it’s on their website if you want to witness it for yourself at http://209.128.123.166/PPPortal/agenda/webcast.aspx .

I wrote the City Clerk about this and asked that it be forwarded on to Mr. Douglas for a public apology to Mr. Yale. I wasn’t asked to do this; it’s just the right thing to do. And it’s a subtle reminder of who he works for, which isn’t some fringe activist group (who don’t all live in Longmont). He serves at the pleasure of the City Council that Longmont citizens like Mr. Yale elect in or out of office.

Can of Worms

At the April 29, 2008 Longmont City Council meeting, at the late, nearly eleven o’clock hour, something interesting happened. Quite often, the most interesting things happen during “Council Comments” at the end of every meeting, it’s worth Tivo’ing.

In the Times-Call of the same date, there was a story about Lifebridge Church. It, according to the paper, ” submitted amassive open records request to the city, asking for public documents spanning 20 years.” So it sounds as if the attorneys of Lifebridge delivered a mountain of paper (massive) for this request! Oh, the tree’s who paid with their lives, er, leaves. I’m sure it was meant that the result of this request will be ” massive“.

At the City Council meeting, Councilmember Karen Benker asked City Attorney Clay Douglas about this and it turned into a fairly long discussion covering emails, phone calls, and the recording and reporting of these. Some of you may not have been aware, but every correspondence you send to city council, and presumably city staff, is of the open record variety. And, when councilmembers receive these, they are to forward them on to city staff for retention.

I got the strong impression this hasn’t been followed by some on council. And there seemed to be concern about “personal” emails, and when items are confidential and when they aren’t. It sounds like very little is private when it comes to just about any correspondence between constituents and their city council members. If the constituent states that it is confidential, there could be some coverage there. But it doesn’t go the other way, that is, from the councilmember to the constituent, according to Mr. Douglas.

Apparently, the proper way for a councilmember to respond to an email is for them to CC the reply to the appropriate city staff email address so they get a copy of the original email and the response. I guess if they don’t reply, they should just forward the email on, but that wasn’t made clear. And it was also implied that if the councilmember replies and forwards the reply on, it must include the original email from the constituent or the Open Records Act was not properly followed.

I email councilmembers from time to time, and not to “fish” for a violation of this act, but for valid questions. I’m sure some of you do as well. Just for fun, in your replies from council, check the “From” area to see if anyone is in the CC list. It’s possible it was a blind CC, but why would a councilmember want to hide the fact they followed procedure, and the law for that matter?

The question of recording telephone conversations came up, and Mr. Douglas said ” any communication“, which might be construed as including telephone calls. But something else he said here got my attention: ” A telephone conversation among councilmembers if it involves the requisite three members or majority can become an open meeting, and affording the public access to that can pose its own challenges.” Catch that?

To me, that says if there is a conference call between 3 or more members, that we the public can and should have access to that conversation. My question is does that apply to emails sent between councilmembers to more than one other councilmember? And, how about get-togethers outside of council meetings that include 3 or more councilmembers? Especially if they discuss city business?

This could get interesting, and I doubt Lifebridge was aware of what that request has and could evolve in to. I’ve done requests of city records before, usually airport related issues, and have always found the City Clerks Office more than helpful in this area. I hope they aren’t about to get swamped.