Atascadero City Council shuts off dialog with public
August 3, 2011
From now on, when Atascaderans give public comments during Community Forum at City Council meetings, they can no longer receive the customary and occasional responses from council and staff members allowed by California’s open meeting law.
Previously, under the Brown Act, in response to questions and matters raised regarding non-agenda issues, the public could expect those assembled officials may ask to clarify a question, direct people to information, briefly discuss matters raised, or direct an issue to be a subject of a staff report or agenda item at a future meeting.
Those responses are now banned.
Under a prohibition suddenly announced and unilaterally instituted by the Mayor Tom O’Malley at the July 12 Council meeting, none of those responses will be allowed during Council meetings – turning what was once a two-way street into a one-way alley. There was no public notice about these major restrictions, nothing on any agenda, no opportunity for public comment, and no discussion, motion, vote or explanation of the rationale for them.
This prohibition is destructive to the ability of the public to participate in the governmental decision-making process (the purpose of the Brown Act), undermines the motivation to participate in Council meetings, subverts the government’s capacity to respond to emerging issues, and prevents public servants from performing their duties.
Furthermore, the restrictions were concocted behind closed doors, well in advance of the July 12 meeting, as evidenced by the agenda for that meeting posted on July 5. The description of Community Forum on that agenda was changed in a manner identical to the response ban implemented a week later, i.e. no response to questions, no discussion, and termination of previously permitted agendizing of matters raised.
Apparently, more than one week prior to July 5, some members of city management, staff and/or council discussed, deliberated and decided upon this prohibition, completely out of public view, in violation of the Brown Act.
At their August 9 meeting, the Council will hear from citizens demanding this prohibition be immediately declared null and void, that the full range of legally permissible responses be restored, and that any future such restrictions be considered the right way – in public, on the record and subject to public comment.
People concerned about this can attend that meeting at 6:00 p.m. or email the Councilmembers: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
David Broadwater is a long time Atascadero resident and a local activist.