AG council considers speech restraint

May 23, 2016

AG City Council 6


A verbal joust over the limits of individual free speech looms Tuesday when the Arroyo Grande City Council meets at 6 p.m.

A recent request by one council member to place on a future agenda a discussion about “council communications” suddenly has morphed into a resolution for adoption prepared by City Manager Dianne Thompson and now is set for action.

“All council member correspondence using city resources shall be copied to the full council, the city manager, the city attorney, and the city clerk,” Thompson writes in the resolution. “In addition, all council correspondence to public agencies in which the mayor or council member identifies themselves as such, shall be copied to the full council.”

The proposal probably runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution. In 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court “demonstrate that the First Amendment’s protection of elected officials’ speech is robust and no less strenuous than that afforded to the speech of citizens in general.”

Any vote by a city council body likely would not invalidate the circuit court’s decision.

The so-called communications matter originated with council member Barbara Harmon after she had chastised Mayor Jim Hill for a letter he sent to the Federal Trade Commission. In that letter, Hill outlined his concerns about the lengthy closure of the city’s only full-service grocery store.

City tax coffers have been severely reduced because of the closure. In the past, grocery stores at the site brought in about $2.4 million per month in revenue, making it one of the city’s top five tax revenue generators.

Harmon complained that Hill’s letter “conveyed an official city position.” Harmon also voiced her concerns that members of the public became aware of the letter before she did, and that the letter demonstrated a “lack of transparency.”

Council member Kristen Barneich asked that the issue be agendized to allow a discussion about implementing council policy on letters written by city council members.

Thompson instead drafted the resolution, and the council will now consider a vote on the matter.

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The term “team” and “team work” were used in describing the Council’s function in the hearing by certain members of the Council and in comments by citizens supporting the proposed communication policy. They suggested the Council is a “team”, alleging each Council member has the same power as that of the Mayor.

This is a fallacy! If the Council is a team then all votes should be unanimous and not split 3/2 opposing the Mayor as determined on the Communications matter and the debacle involving Planning Commissioner Mack.

Imagine a basketball team – such as the Lakers – proceeding on a 3/2 basis to win basketball games – where a majority opposed the star of the team — or any team that proceeds divisively in its endeavors to win.

This all brings into focus the real political issue facing the citizens of Arroyo Grande. And that is the control by a troika of Guthrie, Harmon and Barneich to control the management of the city’s business as administered by City Manager.

It seems to appear as a focus to undermine the Mayor, harboring overtures of hangover from the past Ferrara dominated Council – that was thoroughly manifested in the surprising election of Mayor Hill.

This frames the issue for the citizens in this political season – in the reelection of the Mayor and the election of two members of the Council – assuming both Guthrie and the Barneich wish to run again.

The citizens must decide for something is wrong here. What is the power of the Mayor? If the Council is a team should all votes be determined on a unanimous basis and not controlled by a troika that obviously wishes to control, and embarrass the Mayor? Should Harmon be recalled? What is the real role of the Council and that of the City manager?

The City is being over developed and traffic is becoming hostile to a once great standard of living. Something is wrong here. We need new faces on the Council, and the Mayor’s role that has been traditionally extolled in the past should be emphasized and not controlled by administrative procedures that makes the Mayor a symbolized eunuch in function and purpose.

Teamwork? The AG Council is not a team – to allege so is a lie – as proven by the 3/2 votes contradicting the Mayor.

Reply to Pelican

“shut it down, shut it down”

Oh how we all miss those days of grins and giggles provided by Little Steve and Big Tony.