GUEST COLUMN: Good things come in time |

GUEST COLUMN: Good things come in time

Congratulations to the new City Council for recognizing the need to televise the public comment portion of the agenda and, in part, beginning the process of allowing new ideas to get on the agenda.

For several years I, and several others, have asked – no, actually pleaded with – the council to televise the public comment portion of the council’s agenda and to allow all ideas to be fully debated, not censored by the need to get five votes before the matter is even heard.

Our request was based on several grounds. The first is that the only place a community member can express judgments about or question the council is at the public comment portion (and believe me there was plenty of that). By not televising those portions, the public was denied the right to see and hear those comments – unless you were at the actual meeting. However, at the same time past councils encouraged people to stay home because the meetings were being televised.

Public comment is also the only opportunity for a member of the public to request new ideas be examined or questionable conditions be investigated. The council could easily dismiss, and hide potentially unpopular ideas because unless members of the public were at the meeting, they never heard them. For example Ken Curtzwiler and I brought up the idea of a charter city on several occasions, yet our ideas were never heard by the community because they were not broadcast.

The new council has agreed to try broadcasting for six months. Special thanks to Angela Swanson who bothered to find out that our city was the only city in the state to ban such broadcast. When she saw the injustice she responded for the public benefit and restored the broadcast.

The second decision of the council was to change the requirement to get an idea or program on the councils agenda for discussion from five votes to three votes. Under the past rules a councilmember would have to convince everyone that an idea is a good idea before it could be heard at all. Now councilmembers only have to have three votes to have an idea heard. While this is a step in the right direction, I know of no other body where a single member cannot bring a matter forward for debate. After all, isn’t it through debate that we really find out the merits of an issue and who stands where? If the matter has no support, it will not get a second and at least the public will then know who stands for what. If the matter gets a second, then the community can hear the pros and cons of the idea along and can identify those who support it and those who oppose it. All information that could be important for the next election. I am thinking of issues like rent control, light rail and trash rates for example.

It is through a combination of these new rules that we may still yet get the issue of a charter city before the people. With a charter city, we will actually be able to elect leaders and policy makers to run and manage our city rather than the current general law city that empowers the city manger to act as an elected official and to run the city.

When you vote for a council member under the current system they really have little power to change things. They are only there twice a month at best, the city staff reports to the city manager and it takers two other votes to even get a matter of the agenda. Under a directly elected mayor to manage the city, the person elected makes the decision, hires the staff and brings forth policy. For example a person could run on an agenda to fix the streets, build sidewalks and bike lanes and when elected actually bring the forces to bear to actually make it happen. Under the current system it will never happen. Mark my word, two years from now we will still be wondering why we still see wheel chairs along Highway 50.

-Ted Long is a former councilmember, planning commissioner and past president of the Sacrament Valley division of the League of California Cities. He currently serves on the Latino Affairs Commission and the El Dorado County Grand Jury.

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