ENCINITAS — City Council discussed a little known administrative procedure change that has become controversial on Oct. 13.
At the Sept. 15 meeting, the council voted 3-2 to change the procedure for “agendizing” an issue for public hearings to require a majority of the five-person council to support the issue rather than two.
Councilman Jerome Stocks said the item has been “perverted.” He said that the intent was to empower the council as opposed to the mayor. “Some people don’t like the way that’s been interpreted,” he said. “I know the reality is that the mayor can still decide to put something on the agenda if he wants to.”
“It’s pretty clear this is a divisive issue,” Stocks said. Because it is an election year, he said he did not want to decide the issue with the current council.
Councilwoman Teresa Barth called his comments “disingenuous.”
“You’re twisting this,” she told him. “The public gets it,” she said. “This (procedure) was changed to stifle dissent and to avoid accountability because you didn’t have to have a vote on the record.”
According to assistant city manager Richard Phillips, the staff called several city clerks to inquire how other councils place items on the agenda for discussion. Other cities generally have no written policy. Of the cities that do have a procedure, it requires either the consent of the mayor or the consensus of the council to get an item before the public according to Phillips.
The council voted 4-0, with Councilman James Bond absent, to postpone a decision until after the November election.
Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan, along with Barth, argued that the change the council made in a 3-2 vote to its agenda-setting policy in August 2009 made it difficult for important items to be on the agenda.
Because of the changes, it now takes the support of three council members to get an issue on the agenda. Because votes are usually split 3-2, getting something on the agenda is imperative. “The discourse is critical,” Houlihan said.
Former Mayor Sheila Cameron said the practice was always a council member approaching the city manager or the mayor to place an item on the agenda. She also urged the council to allow dissenting opinions from council members to be heard on the record. “It’s about process, please change it back,” she said. “At least have the appearance of transparency.”
City Council candidate Tony Kranz said he supported a change back to allowing two council members to get an item on the agenda. Russell Levan, a Leucadia resident, said “freedom from tyranny” was a fundamental reason for the creation of the United States. He said it works against the intent of the forefathers to have the minority opinion stifled.
Mayor Dan Dalager said that he would support the idea of agendizing an item to go on the agenda if two council members supported it. However, he said he wanted to wait until after the November election, despite Houlihan’s motion and Barth’s second, to change the procedure during the meeting.