Finding # 12: During public comment, Directors extended meeting length by responding to several comments.
Background: Every Rosamond Community Services District meeting begins with the following instructions to the public.
“Item 2: Public Comments. At this time any person may address the board on any subject within the district’s jurisdiction which is not on the agenda. However, any non-agenda matter will be referred to staff for a report and or action at a subsequent board meeting and no action can be taken on any subject item discussed unless the action has been authorized under section 54954.2(b) of the government code. Any person may also address the board on any agenda matter; as the matter is discussed prior to board consideration and action. Speakers are requested to limit comments to 5 minutes. Would anyone like to address the board at this time?”
These are great rules for the public to follow and it allows for a smooth flow of topics…until emotional board responses and board member’s personal agendas take over.
Keeping with the theme of “doing their own thing” (See previous section for Finding # 2), the same instructions are read at every meeting, but Ed, Olaf, and Dennis are never quite able to apply the rules to themselves. Perhaps at the next meeting, someone should stand up, set a timer for 5 minutes and read the following statement and then proceed to use the entire 5 minutes “to speak on any subject within the district’s jurisdiction which is not on the agenda.” Then repeat the process for each agenda item.
“Item 2a: Response to Item 2 Board Member conduct during public comments. In recognition of authorization under section 54952.2(b) I will emphasize the requirement under section 54952.2(c) the legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency, or of the acts or omissions of the legislative body. Nothing in this subdivision shall confer any privilege or protection for expression beyond that otherwise provided by law. That said, at this time, while any person in attendance chooses to address the board, it is requested that the board members remain silent, pay attention to what is being said and treat the general public with the proper respect and dignity that shall draw great praise upon this board. Any violation of this courtesy shall be perceived as a violation of the Brown Act, Section 54952.2 (c) and shall be duly noted. So says one, so say we all!”
According to protocol described in the Brown Act, the role of the Board is listening to; but not entering into discussions with members of the public when matters are presented.
Primarily, this is due to the fact that the public members aren’t speaking agenda matters; therefore the Board would be violating established customary practices. During the presentation of non-agenda matters, the board may ask questions for clarification.
Actions generated from the presentation of non-agenda matters, are limited to 1) directing board staff to follow up on the matter; or 2) placing the matter on a future agenda, so it can be discussed in detail on the public record at a later date. According to the Kern County Grand Jury’s finding, the RCSD board was found to have engaged in discussion; to include “back and forth banter” with the public during the presentation of non-agenda matters.
This practice, not only takes away from the five-minute time limit of the person making the presentation, but also allows the Board members to interrupt and distract anyone presenting matters with which any of the Board members do not agree.
The RCSD Board has also attempted to (wrongfully) limit discussion on agenda matters to five minutes.
For the most part, the public at large, doesn’t realize that the five-minute limitation on addressing the Board doesn’t apply to agenda matters. In several cases, members of the public were frustrated by the Board President’s efforts to impose a false restraint upon public opinion; in one specific instance, outlined by the grand jury, this “banter” has unnecessarily extended the duration of board meetings.
From a public perspective, I can also see this practice having a negative result on public attendance to meetings that go on endlessly, never quite seeming to accomplish anything.
Recently, a long-term unnamed resident wondered out loud at a meeting, “Why do I waste my time coming to these meetings? They do not listen to us, we can’t speak our peace! I am out, I am never coming back to one of these meetings.”
The confrontational atmosphere created by the MacKay, Landsgaard, and Shingledecker is a stark departure from the practices of past boards. In the years prior to 2015, previous boards understood that the Brown Act discourages placing time limits on people presenting matters and should only be used under certain circumstances.
A common practice of former boards was to read the statute instructions. They would also point out that the five-minute time limit was for non-agenda items. If people were specifically in attendance because of an item on the agenda they were asked to hold their comments until the proper time at which the agenda item was going to be discussed. They would then be given all the time they needed to present their matters; freely, openly and without added consternation from the dissenting Board members.
What happened to the good old days?
====================== Finding # 12 states: “During public comment, Directors extended meeting length by responding to several comments.”
The RCSD’s official response to Finding # 12: “The Board is without sufficient information by which to ascertain the particular public comment period to which the Report refers and, on that basis, disagrees with this finding. The Board notes that on June 4, 2015 all directors participated in a parliamentary procedure course.”
To read the next section click here: The Midnight Writings: Finding 13 – “Street Lights: History, Economics, and Disenfranchisement”