Comments cut off?
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – A Tuesday South Lake Tahoe City Council special meeting nearly turned into a “shouting match” after a group of attendees felt the council improperly prevented them from speaking, said city councilman Bill Crawford.
But the incident was simply a matter of the group misunderstanding meeting rules, said Mayor Kathay Lovell.
“We want people to come and opinionate themselves, but they need to be civil and understand what the process is so we can take care of city business,” Lovell said.
Many members of the group have been involved in discussions surrounding the regulation of medical marijuana in the city and contended Tuesday’s meeting was the latest example of the council’s unwillingness to listen to public concerns. Several members of the group said medical marijuana had nothing to do with their appearance at the meeting.
The argument began after City Council candidate Steve Kubby began reading a prepared statement highlighting the stalled convention center and condominium project near Stateline and a recent El Dorado Civil Grand Jury report during the public comment period on non-agenda items near the start of Tuesday’s meeting.
A person is typically limited to three minutes of comment on any topic not on the agenda during the period, but the council has occasionally granted additional time to representatives of organizations during such periods in an effort to shorten lengthy meetings. The additional time is typically given when several people with similar stances on an issue attend a meeting and designate a spokesperson.
When Kubby reached three minutes on Tuesday, Lovell told him to stop, sparking anger from attendees.
“We feel we were dealt with unfairly,” Kubby said. “We felt we had a message that they needed to hear, and they didn’t.”
Kubby said the people he was speaking for were too ill or otherwise unable to speak in his place. One person he was speaking for was illiterate, Kubby said.
Several council members said other people in the audience were then given the opportunity to finish Kubby’s prepared statement, but no one immediately volunteered.
Crawford made a motion to allow Kubby another two minutes to finish the statement, but could not gain the four votes necessary to change the rules governing public comments.
“My feeling is we would have saved a lot of time if (Lovell) would have let him speak,” Crawford said.
City Councilman Bruce Grego and Lovell voted against Crawford’s motion. Following the meeting, both said they didn’t feel changing the rules for one group was justified.
“We can’t break the rules and change the system because someone is passionate about a particular topic,” Lovell said.
Councilmen Hal Cole and Jerry Birdwell voted for Crawford’s motion. Birdwell said he encouraged public input, but it was not clear at the beginning of Kubby’s statement that he was speaking for a group of people and should be allowed additional time.
Cole could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
After no one from Tuesday’s audience said they wished to speak, Lovell closed public comment on non-agenda items and began discussion on a separate topic. Only then did one man from the group indicate they wanted to address the council, Lovell said.
But, because public comment on non-agenda items was closed, council meeting rules allowed the man to speak only on the current topic.
The move sparked more anger from members of the group, who contended they were kicked out of Tuesday’s meeting. Lovell, Crawford, Grego and Birdwell all disagreed with the contention.
South Shore resident and Patient to Patient Collective co-owner Matt Triglia said the city council’s refusal to give Kubby the additional time granted in previous meetings was a clear example of the city council changing the ground rules in the middle of a contest.
Kubby and Triglia also said the city’s recent focus on medical marijuana is an attempt to distract public attention from the grand jury report, which is highly critical of the council. Lovell denied the contention.