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City says ad hoc sessions must go public

OCEANSIDE — Council voted to develop policies to make ad hoc committee discussions more transparent in a 3-2 vote Sept. 2. Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez voted no.
The call for more transparency of ad hoc committees was requested after the integrated waste ad
hoc committee recently closed its discussions to the public.
The ad hoc committee felt the prior presence of the Waste Management company, which presently holds the city waste hauling contract and is directly effected by committee recommendations, had undue influence in their decision-making and caused ad hoc committee members to limit what they spoke about.
There has also been a strong and reportedly distracting presence of council members at the ad hoc meetings.
“We want to be able to discuss stuff without it being blown up,” Rick Wade, an ad hoc committee member, said. “At the ad hoc level its not about transparency, it’s about brainstorming. The helicoptering of council members in the background only hinders that.”
Ad hoc committees are small brainstorming groups that are tasked to develop a solution and bring the idea to a larger committee, which in turn brings the idea to council.
Ad hoc committees can only suggest solutions and have no decision-making power.
“Ad hoc committees are set up so they can meet and talk,” Sanchez said. “Leave this a process of thinking. Wait until it gets through the process and is at the commission level (for public input).”
More discussion was promoted by the fact that the integrated waste ad hoc committee had requested city staff to attend a closed meeting to share their expertise. The council majority felt that ad hoc meetings should be open to the public when city staff is present.
Wood and Sanchez disagreed and said it was not necessary for ad hoc discussion sessions to be open to the public. “You can not get work done in an orderly fashion and without being influenced by a trash hauler in the same room with you and council members who have already told you what direction they wanted,” Wood said.
“What it is, is an issue of undue influence,” Sanchez said. “This (waste hauling contract) is a very, very critical contract. In December, conclusions and objections of Waste Management had members of the committee basically being told what to do. I think what is happening here is a tug of war with Waste Management.”
Councilmen Jerry Kern, Jack Feller and Rocky Chavez who supported the motion stressed it applies to all ad hoc committees. “Let’s get clarification on this, so we don’t need to go through this again,” Kern said. “It’s not just your committee. Once you include staff (at ad hoc meetings) you should include public.”
Final guidelines for ad hoc committee meeting transparency, including public notifications of open meetings, still need to be determined.