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Council seeks to improve public outreach

DEL MAR – Council members discussed three proposals at the April 20 meeting to improve community engagement and better inform the public and each other, but opted to move forward with only two of the recommendations.

Dwight Worden and Sherryl Parks make up a council ad hoc committee tasked with creating ways to better address community outreach and engagement for committees, advisory boards and City Council.

“We picked out somewhat randomly two items … to try this out and see how it works,” Worden said.

Their colleagues support a suggestion to hold periodic workshops in residents’ homes.

“Mainly we would listen to what people in that area want to say,” Worden said. “The idea would be to really let the community know we do want to hear from them. We want to sit around on their couches in a more informal way dialoguing with them.”

The meeting topics would focus on the concerns of people in a specific area of the city. The gatherings would take place a few times a year in a different neighborhood each time.

Worden said home meetings would eliminate the “formality” of council chambers.

“People don’t have to be on TV,” he said. “They can just talk to us.”

“I think going forward with anything where you go out in the community and listen to people is very, very positive,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said. “And I would encourage us to do that.”

Worden and Parks will also work to set up a mentoring program in which former council and committee members share their volunteer experiences. The plan includes producing short video testimonials.

Worden said the program could increase public participation by helping people better understand what City Council and advisory committee members do.

He said residents often “jump from the dry ground into the deep end. There’s no sort of transitional way for you to find out what you’re getting into.”

“It really would bode well for recruiting more people,” Parks said.

Sinnott said in addition to describing the role of each group, the mentors should list what they accomplish.

“People will sign up to do volunteer work if they know they’re getting something very valuable done,” Sinnott said.

“I think the goals are great and I encourage us to figure out how to do it,” Mayor Al Corti said.

Council members were less enthusiastic about a proposal to develop a webpage where they could post items of interest between public meetings.

In their report, Worden and Parks noted the Brown Act does not allow discussion of any topic of city business, or collective decision-making, by a majority or more of council members outside of a publicly noticed and open meeting.

Currently when they want to share information about what occurred during a committee meeting, council members send the information to the city manager, who ensures it is appropriate and then forwards it to their colleagues.

The public doesn’t see the information unless the city manager posts it as part of his weekly update.

Information must be nonpolitical and factual only, with no opinions added. As proposed the webpage would be read only. Comments from council members or the public would be prohibited.

“I must say that I am very firmly opposed to this idea because I think it opens us up to Brown Act violations,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “In Del Mar almost any statement you make is political. I’m trying to envision what you could put on this page. If it’s public information it’s already available.

“I think our job is to tell people in a public forum when we’re meeting as a council, not to put up little bits of information on a website,” he added. “I don’t think that’s our role as City Council to be the communicators.

“I don’t want to be the website guru of Del Mar because almost anything I want to say is going to have a potential political implication,” Mosier said. “There’s almost no opinion that I want to put on this website that doesn’t get me in trouble, and that’s the problem I have with this idea.”

Corti said he has mixed feelings about the proposal. His concerns include the amount of staff time that would be required to monitor and manage the page.

“If people have misgivings about it we probably don’t want to do it,” Worden said, adding that he and Parks would “work on it some more and see what other options there are.”