During another disastrous City Council Meeting on November 19th that lasted into November 20th, many people came up with suggestions on how to improve City Council meetings to increase public participation. Use this space to make suggestions- maybe we can format them and present them to City Council members.
To contribute, hit the edit button next to the entry title.
- FOR COUNCIL/GOV'T OFFICIALS:
Allow for Participation
Have clear guidelines about speaking time and not negotiate/renegotiate them for each speaker and during each meeting
- at an AlCo meeting, some speakers were pre-scheduled and pre-allotted time. for example, a lawyer from the ALCU was given 10 minutes up front and a speaker from a non-profit stakeholder was given 5 minutes. these speakers were agendized, as was their time limit. seems like it would be doable to contact AlCo (via the clerk?) and see how they do this?
- have a regular order of speakers for non-consent items (ie: staff report, stakeholders, public, councilmembers)
Some ideas on public comment (suggested by Paula Hawthorn):
Minor changes like:
there will be no ceding of time, there will be no merging of items, you get two minutes, that is it. Multiple people from a group can "tag team" a long discussion by breaking it up and have individual speakers give different parts.
The order: Get those names on a computer & put them on the screen, and you speak in the order your name is on the screen. You miss your turn, too bad. This will keep it moving. Getting them on the computer is easy: they have all the people who signed up online, they go first, while they are speaking the walk-ins speaker cards are data-entered. No negotiating.
Then the major change: Tell everyone they must check the box “for” or “against”, and that people will be chosen randomly, equal number of “fors” and “againsts”, 2 minutes each, to fill a manageable public comment time: say, two hours, that would be 30 on each side. Not everyone who wants to speak will get to speak, but that is the way it is now, except that now many who want to speak can’t because the meeting goes way too late.
Address scheduling issues to make sure that everyone gets to participate.
Scheduling is handled at the weekly Rules and Legislation Committee at 10:45 AM each Thursday where items are scheduled for committee and council meetings.
- How are items scheduled though? In the order they're received (ie: first come/first serve?), in order of urgency, some other way?
- Allow for flexibility in scheduling: if there are a lot of people signed up to speak, move these items to the beginning. Perhaps hear items according to how many public speakers are signed up for each item (the item with the most public speakers goes first, the item with the second most public speakers goes second, etc.)?
- Possibly table/move items to future meetings if it is evident that there hasn't been substantive debate or public input on an item. Oaklanders care about issues and want their voices to be heard and respected.
- Scheduling is handled at the weekly Rules and Legislation Committee at 10:45 AM each Thursday where items are scheduled for committee and council meetings.
- hold important (or all?) committees at times when people can participate. for example, many Oaklanders are able to follow and/or attend public safety because it's held on tuesday evenings. rules committee, however, which decides which items will be agendized, is held on Thursdays at 10:45 am. (see committee schedule here)
Figure out a way to allow interaction between staff, council and citizens in a scheduled, productive way on agendized items, perhaps before main meetings but during committee?
- City Council can ask questions of staff, but residents can't. How can residents interact with staff to ask questions and get more information?
- City Council isn't allowed to respond directly to citizen comments- how can comments be addressed by CMs?
- Have clear guidelines about speaking time and not negotiate/renegotiate them for each speaker and during each meeting
Listen to Public Participation Results Before Voting
- Avoid DEAD meetings, the fait accompli: Those where Council or staff are "asking for public input", but have already Decided on the project, Executed it, now are Advertising it and ready to Defend it. (See November 20 public meeting re: Latham Square)
- Pay attention. Avoid multitasking or the dreaded use of cell phones during meetings (see leadership).
Follow parliamentary procedure: Oakland City Council Rules of Procedure, Robert's Rules of Order
- Follow the rules. Whatever they are, follow them.
- Publish the rules, be accountable.
- Know the rules- this will eliminate back and forth between members of council/staff about the rules.
- Hold trainings for Councilmembers, especially those who chair meetings and committee meetings on leadership and public speaking, including how to deal with rowdy crowds without being patronizing
Remember that City Council is an elected body and is obligated to listen to and care about the opinions of the citizens they represent. It is not appropriate to:
- Be distracted by side conversations
Be distracted by cellphones or laptops
- i think it would be cool if there was a way to incorporate social media/virtual participation in real time. i don't know if this is feasible (it's only 2013) but i have felt one or two times that some CMs are looking at #oakmtg on twitter and responding appropriately to concerns being raised. would there be a way to do this?
- Insult, belittle, or demean public speakers
- Act like citizen comments are annoying, funny or a waste of time
- Fight amongst each other
- Move the ceremonial awards to either a different meeting, or earlier in the day or have them once a month
- a lot of times CMs reference emails they've received or voices they've heard via other means on controversial items. at meetings, only the voices of those who can/do come to meetings are heard. how can we know if a) the CMs are speaking in good faith about what they heard via email and b) the #s of people they heard from . is there a way that we could have openness about this with out public records requests after the fact?
- publish real minutes. the minutes on the city council website are only accounts of votes, as far as i can tell, and are delayed by weeks (and at times by months)
make sure that everything that's available at city council meetings is available online. sometimes council members hand out alternate text or say that things are "missing" from their packets. people following along at home or even in chambers don't have access to these documents.
- seems like there should be a way to do this real time, even if the documents are handed to council in paper. items could be scanned immediately and shown on KTOP
- the dead space on the online streaming that is occasionally used for agendas (and should always be used for agendas) could be used with these new documents
- FOR CITIZENS:
Consider your audience/means of participation
There are variety of ways to participate, all of which have varying degrees of success and/or consequences
- Sign up for a speaker card (here) and speak at a meeting
- email your councilperson (here)
Some people believe that disrupting meetings through chanting and yelling is an effective manner of participating in the democratic process
- Not everyone will agree with this method of participation
- In some instances this has led to individuals being removed from chambers, arrested, seating being limited and on November 19th, chambers being cleared
It is normally a small number of people being disruptive on a given item.
- It's not good practice to ignore 50-100 speakers on an item because of 5-10 people who may be disruptive in a meeting.
- Some people watching the meetings or learning about them through mainstream media outlets will look at this behavior with disdain, and might end up be sympathetic to Council members that are forced to put up with the disruptions.
Organize ahead of time
- Take Dr. Death for example. He may look odd, but he spoke to the council in a respectful manner, and they actually paid attention to him. //Take Dr. Death -- the guy lives near Sacramento, 3 counties away from Oakland . The city council will listen to non-residents dressed as clowns before they listen to their own residents who disagree with them?
Come as a group
- During the budget discussion, one union group organized: they signed up for many speaker cards and divided their speech into minute-sized chunks. Each speaker stood and read one card then as time was called, the next person took over. It was very effective and there was no quibbling about time.
- Have multiple people who care about an issue speak about it, with differing facts and points of view
- Have multiple people who care about an issue speak about it, with similar facts and points of view to drive it homne
- Come often until an issue is resolved
- There are variety of ways to participate, all of which have varying degrees of success and/or consequences