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Council working to better interact with residents

DEL MAR — In an effort to better interact with the public and share information outside of noticed meetings without violating state law, council members agreed to move forward with recommendations made by their new colleague, Dwight Worden, a former Del Mar city attorney.

In an agenda item submitted and discussed at the Dec. 15 meeting, Worden noted the current council process of refraining from all comments or responses during the oral communications portion of each meeting can be frustrating for speakers.

“It’s hard to come up there, to wait for your three minutes, and then ask something that’s really … important to you, and then you get poker faces from the council,” Worden said.

“And it’s hard for the council, too, to have to look at somebody and feel like you can’t have any interaction at all when you can,” he added.

Every posted agenda informs potential speakers that “(s)tate law generally precludes the City Council from discussing or acting upon any topic initially presented during oral communications that is not described on the posted agenda.”

“It conveys to the speaker … ‘Sorry, nothing we can do about that,’ which is a shame,” City Attorney Leslie Devaney said.

Council members are allowed by law to briefly respond to statements or questions, ask the speaker questions for clarification, make a brief announcement or report on their own activities and refer the matter to staff for factual investigation or to be placed on a future agenda.

Worden said council should exercise those rights.

“I think that not only would (it) be good practice, it would really help us bond with the community better,” he said. “We’re a small town and we’re kind of informal. Sometimes dialogue is good.”

“What you can’t do is start dialoguing among one another about the different things that can be done,” Devaney said, adding that they also cannot opine on a problem, take sides or engage in a conversation that would result in a discussion.

“If somebody crosses the line,” Devaney said, she would indicate that to council members. “I welcome this. I think it’s good.”

Devaney was slightly less enthusiastic about Worden’s other recommendation to create a page on the city website where council members could post information they wanted to share in between regular meetings.

“The page would be open and accessible to being read by the public,” Worden wrote. “Nothing would be private or hidden.

Worden stated, in his opinion, this would promote better, more open government and be consistent with the Brown Act, which prohibits a quorum or more of a legislative body from coming to a collective decision outside of a public meeting.

The act doesn’t prohibit sharing information, Worden noted.

“I don’t see any problem with sharing information that’s already in the public domain,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “I’d get a little uncomfortable when you’re making either tacit or implicit arguments for one outcome or the other.

“It’s very hard not to convey some viewpoint,” he added.

Devaney said a 2009 change made state law more restrictive, but she agreed to work with city officials to possibly find a way to make the idea work.