Some Rancho Palos Verdes residents will recall that in the election in November 2011 the now new council members promised open and transparent local government. Oddly they seem headed in a very different direction.
You can comment on that direction at their meeting on Tuesday, May 15 at 7 p.m. at Hesse Park (unless of course the agenda item on revised city rules is rescheduled yet again or the meeting location and/or time changed again to escape public view).
The matter was originally set for an unusual and untelevised meeting on Wednesday March 14 and then reset for Tuesday March 20 where only part of the rules revisions were decided. Under new rules adopted by a 3-2 vote on March 20, individual council members can no longer place items on the agenda. The mayor and city manager have complete control over the council's agenda unless the majority of the council votes to overrule them at a meeting.
Why the change? Who knows. The meetings have been shorter than those in the past and so it seems there is no need for such a change. But the revised rules came as part of a hastily drafted and hastily revised "code of conduct" and "protocol" that were slapped together with little public comment and likely no review by the city attorney either.
Part of the agenda appears to be create a "strong mayor" position, a position the community soundly rejected in the past. The revised rules also appear to be designed to stifle dissent and may even violate the First Amendment. The original draft threatened "immediate dismissal" of city commissioners and committee members who did not pledge what amounted to a loyalty oath and who did things that the council majority did not like. The revised draft is somewhat less ham-handed but is still designed to intimidate all those who dare to present a different point of view.
The proposed rules go so far as to potentially require individual council members and committee and commission members to essentially be monitored by staff to make sure they don't say things that the council majority does not like. Apparently the new city council's idea of community harmony is agreement with its point of view.
The newly proposed rules also degrade public input further by shortening the time in advance of meetings when agenda packets will be available. Also the revisions seem to open up the possibility that ad hoc committees of the council (two members only and not required to meet in public) will now be making policy decisions.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the proposed rules require that undefined "confidential" information be kept from the public in an apparent effort to sidestep state law which defines what information cities may withhold from the public.
The RPV city council has important decisions to make regarding a number of issues and all of those decisions should be made in the full glare of public light. And all such decisions should have the benefit of independent advice from staff, commission and committee members and council members.
If some of the decisions are difficult and unpleasant, so be it. That is democracy and, as Winston Churchill said, "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."