Why vote against public participation?
August 30, 2014
OPINION By KEVIN RICE
Why did Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian vote against citizen speech at public meetings? On Wednesday, AB 194 (Nora Campos, D-San Jose) cleared both State Congress houses and now moves toward Governor Brown’s desk, but not with support from Katcho.
AB 194 amends the Brown Act to end several long-standing abuses and denials of citizens’ right to be heard by local elected officials. Of local significance, AB 194 ends the practice of requiring members of the public to sign up to speak prior to the start of a meeting or agenda item. This practice has been used by our San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to limit public input and criticism.
Another common local practice ended by AB 194 requires citizens to speak at the beginning of a meeting or prior to presentations by staff, preventing comment after specifics are made public.
AB 194 explicitly permits criticism of public employees and how they do their jobs. Despite two federal court rulings upholding the First Amendment, many local agencies continue to prohibit criticism of their employees (while welcoming praise). Viewpoint discrimination—denying or limiting comment based upon disapproval of the speaker’s views—is prohibited. And, AB 194 protects citizens from having their speaking time reduced by interruptions from the governing body chair, or for time spent translating comments into English (for non-English speakers).
What was Katcho thinking in voting against AB 194? Call Governor Brown and ask him to sign AB 194 into law. AB 194 is supported by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the ACLU and Californians Aware.