During the Visalia City Council work session on Monday, June 1, the council discussed and voted on a policy for how a city council member can formally add an item to the agenda.
Until now, the procedure has been informally handled during the “items of interests” portion of the general meeting. The Council considered establishing a more formal process consistent with the Brown Act.
Formalizing the procedure for how a council member adds an item to the agenda did not include how a member of the public could do the same. There exist several paths for the public to get items on the agenda, but they are not well understood, and as a result not evenly applied to everyone.
At the city council workshop in January of this year, the council asked staff to bring back two options on how to add items to the agenda. City staff based these options on what they had learned from what other cities do and by what was allowed by the Brown Act. The two options presented during Monday’s work session were:
- Option A – Consent Calendar Process: A city council member makes a request to the city manager that an item be added to a future agenda. If the item is received by the city manager prior to Wednesday noon of the week before the next council meeting, the city manager adds their request to the Consent Calendar. If the item is approved as part of the consent calendar it is then placed on the next agenda as a regular item.
- Option B – Council Member Items of Interest Process: A Council Member may, under “Items of Interest” on a City Council agenda, request a matter be placed on a future agenda. Council members can vote at that time whether to add the item to a future agenda.
During the work session discussion, the council was unanimously in favor of option A. This would end their current practice of requesting items to be added to the agenda during “items of interest.” Council Member Amy Shuklian liked the idea of reviewing a possible agenda item with the city manager. Many times the city manager can resolve the issues without it going to the agenda and can also decide if the item is more appropriate for a work session or the general meeting.
A member of the public can also request an item to be put on the agenda, but the process is less formalized. For the public to get an item on the agenda they can bring it up during public comment, contact a city council member, or discuss it with the city staff.
When the public contacts a city council member they may or may not get a response. A city staff person said that if the individual gets no response, the member of the public may assume that none of the council members are interested in putting the item on the agenda. If during public comment, none of the council members look interested, that also may be seen as a “no” vote as far as getting your item on the agenda. It is not clear what happens when the public approaches the city staff with their agenda item.
But the public has been successful in getting items on the agenda. In regard to the chicken ordinance, Shuklian had heard discussions about raising chickens in residential areas for a few years. Then in the last month, three coworkers asked her why chickens were not legal in Visalia. She suggested to the city council during “items of interest” that it should be put on the agenda, and it was.
Shuklian did her civic duty and responded to her constituents. But what happens if you don’t work with a city council member?
According to Gingi Freeman, this is what she has gone through to get an item on the agenda.
“I e-mailed all of the council members (April 26th) about a week and a half before the May 4 council meeting, asking if we could meet in person, and how I could get the goats on the agenda,” she said. “I received no response.
“Prior to the first rally, upon receiving no response, I contacted each council members’ offices to verify that they were indeed receiving my e-mails. I reiterated that I would like to speak about the goats and get them on the next possible agenda. This time I received e-mails from ALL of them, but just to say, ’Come to the meeting if you have anything to say.’
“We requested at the May 4 meeting that miniature goats be put on the next city council’s agenda. We were directed to the City Planners who took a couple weeks to explain to us that we would have to pay to get it on the agenda via the $3598 application fee.
“Now I have been in contact with all of the council members explaining that I want them to do their job and put this on the agenda without the non-refundable extortion money.
“I’ve also asked them to be frank with me and let me know if they plan to take the nearly $4000 to get it on the agenda and then just shoot it down,” she said.
Even though her group has collected 1250 signatures online, 520 of which represent people who live in Visalia, and her group has collected approximately 900 around town, she still cannot get the item on the agenda.
She requested one more time at the June 1 meeting that the goat ordinance be added to the next city council’s agenda. She has not heard back.
To put the approximately 1300 signatures into perspective, in the 2013 election, John Crabtree secured a seat on the Visalia Unified School Board with 809 votes over his opponent David Alviso.
The 1300 people who took the time to sign a petition supporting an ordinance allowing mini-goats in residential areas expect to be acknowledged by the city council.
It is unclear what exactly the threshold of community interest has to be before a city council member decides to put an item on the agenda.