ENCINITAS — Placing an item on the City Council agenda just got easier. City Council voted unanimously Jan. 12 to do away with the controversial majority rule vote requiring the support of three council members to allow an item for discussion during a meeting.
Instead, newly elected councilwoman Kristin Gaspar made a motion to ease the procedure for placing an item on the council’s agenda. “I do believe that it’s important to maximize the number of voices that are heard,” she said. Her motion to require only one council member with a second member in favor allows for greater flexibility and more input from the public she said.
The issue became particularly contentious during the past City Council election. Both Councilwoman Teresa Barth, who won re-election, and Maggie Houlihan have maintained that certain items don’t get placed on the agenda because the city manager, who is ultimately responsible for placing issues on the list of items to be discussed, has said that not enough support exists on the council.
City managers and mayors have refused to put certain items on the agenda according to Houlihan. She used a ban on public smoking at parks and beaches that was repeatedly denied a forum for council discussion over a five-year period with the reasoning that there wasn’t enough council support. “You basically get shut out on issues that are important to the public,” Houlihan said.
Several residents felt similarly and urged the council to vote in favor of a more transparent system of agenda setting.
Tony Kranz, a Leucadia resident who ran for a seat on the council last fall, not only supported a minimum of two members’ support to place an item on the agenda, but he also asked the council to find a way to allow the public to place items directly on the agenda. “There’s got to be a better way for the public to request an agenda item,” he said.
Sanford Shapiro asked for clarification on the appearance that three council members need to support an item in order to have it put on the agenda. “If that is the case,” he said, “it stifles democracy and sets a bad tone.”
Other speakers were confused by the procedure as well. The council adopted the current agenda policy in 2009. Assistant City Manager Richards Phillips said staff surveyed the surrounding cities to get a sense of how other municipalities deal with the issue. “Several do not have written policies,” he said. “Of those who do have a written policy the cities generally require the approval of the mayor to place an item on the agenda.”
Lisa Shafer told the council that the policy was confusing and had the effect of shutting out the public on important issues. “Process matters as much as outcomes,” she said. “People need to feel as though they have been heard.” She was among a handful of speakers who reminded Gaspar that her campaign website said she supported the two councilperson agenda setting change.
Dadla Ponizil, a Czechoslovakian native, disagreed with the majority. He said it should only take one councilperson’s desire to place an item on the agenda. “If one of you has something important to say, you should be able to say it,” Ponizil said.
Leucadian Russel Levan agreed. “I think we should put this back to a method where two or even one person can put something on the agenda,” he said. “I think it’s un-American to not allow to have a discussion,” he said.
Barth said the “policy of the three at a public meeting” excludes the public. “I believe we need to walk the talk,” she said, referring to the transparent government language on the city’s website. Barth put a time limit on the agenda request for an item to be placed on the agenda in a timely manner, no later than 60-days. .