The City Council meeting of July 22, 2021, was pretty much a shitshow, starring Councilmembers Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, Claudia Jimenez and City Attorney Teresa Stricker.
It started with an attempt by Gayle McLaughlin to summarily repeal an obscure provision of the City Council Rules and Procedures, which she initially voted to adopt as Resolution 61-13 on June 18, 2013, when she was mayor. She also voted for amendments in April and October of 2014 when she was mayor.
The provision states, “Any future regular or special meeting may be canceled by the mayor, at the mayor’s discretion, or by the vote of a majority of the members of the City Council during a regular or special meeting.”
At the July 22, 2021, City Council meeting, during Agenda Review, Gayle asked to be recognized to insert a “scheduling” item in the agenda. The city attorney opined that was proper, pursuant to the Brown Act, presumably based on exception to Section 54954.2, which allows the legislative body, itself as a body, subject to the rules of procedures of the legislative body, to take action to direct staff to place a matter of business on a future agenda.
Incidentally, the Brown Act does not even include the term “scheduling,” although it has become understood that the Brown Act allows a member of a legislative body to contact other members relative to scheduling a special meeting.
The Brown Act expressly allows this kind of communication, though the members should avoid discussing the merits of what is to be taken up at the meeting (https://www.cacities.org/Member-Engagement/Professional-Departments/City-Attorneys-Department/Publications/Open-Public-IV_-A-Guide-to-the-Ralph-M-Brown-Act-(.aspx).
As a matter of fact, In Richmond, such an action ordinarily doesn’t even require an action of the body. Typically, an action by the City Council is not used to agendize items because any individual City Council member has that privilege under the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure. Gayle could have simply made that request to the city clerk in a timely manner. To place an item on the July 27 Agenda, Gayle would have been required to do so no later than 12 noon on July 21 (City Council Rules of Order and Procedure V.B). She missed that deadline. But her motion did not include suspending the rules to allow a late request to agendize.
Gayle proceeded to offer a two-part motion that was seconded by Claudia:
- The first part of Gayle’s was a motion to agendize for the July 27, 2021, meeting, an item to consider removing the mayor’s discretion to cancel meeting provided in the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure.
- The second part was a motion to immediately and summarily suspend (until July 27) the mayor’s discretion to cancel meetings, as provided in the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure.
Gayle then requested the item be heard immediately following the Consent Calendar.
I agreed to move the item to the end of the agenda, but the City Council overturned my decision on a 5-2 vote, and the item was moved as Gayle requested.
The process for overruling a procedural ruling by the mayor is ambiguous. The City Council Rules of Order and procedure include conflicting provisions:
- City Council Rules and Procedures, I.A: “The mayor has final say on all rules, subject to being overturned by a majority of the city Council.”
- City Council Rules and Procedures, VI.C.(5): “Suspension of the rules (as per Rosenberg’s Rules) requires a 2/3 vote of the Council.”
Rosenberg’s Rules: “..it is the chair of the body who is charged with applying the rules of conduct of the meeting. The chair should be well versed in those rules. For all intents and purposes, the chair makes the final ruling on the rules every time the chair states an action. In fact, all decisions by the chair are final unless overruled by the body itself.
- Rosenberg’s Rules: Motion to suspend the rules. This motion is debatable, but requires a two-thirds vote to pass. if the body has its own rules of order, conduct or procedure, this motion allows the body to suspend the rules for a particular purpose. For example, the body, (a private club) may have a rule prohibiting the attendance at meetings by non-club members. A motion to suspend the rules would be in order to allow a non-club member to attend a meeting of the club on a particular date or on a particular meeting agenda.
In any event the vote was 5-2 and complied with both conflicting provisions.
I then pointed out that the second motion was an improper addition to the agenda and therefore out of order, pursuant to the Brown Act, which provides that a body may not take action or discuss any item that does not appear on the posted agenda (Section 54954.2).
Furthermore, the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure, III.G states:
The Council shall not take action on any item that has not been published on the agenda of the meeting and posted in accordance with Chapter 4 of the Brown Act. Any item not on the agenda shall not be considered unless the item can be considered by the City Council pursuant to Government Code Section 54954.2(b), The Ralph M. Brown Act (Attached as Section B, Government Code Section 54950-54963, in the Index of this Policy).
The city attorney then erroneously opined that the motion was proper because it was a motion to suspend the rules, allowed under Rosenberg’s Rules and VI.C (5) of the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure. Her advice was a grievous error.
First of all, Gayle flat out lied in her original request. The second part of her motion had nothing to do with scheduling; it was a motion to consider revising the City Council Rules of Order and Procedure, albeit temporarily.
Citing the Brown Act, I ruled the second motion out of order because it was not about placing a matter of business on a future agenda, which is allowed by the Brown Act; it was about adding a matter of business that had not been previously agendized to the agenda of the ongoing meeting, which is not allowed by the Brown Act.
A Council member then moved to suspend the rules and overrule my ruling. The problem was that it was not my ruling that was the issue, it was the Brown Act itself that was the issue. Two-thirds of the City Council can suspend the City Council’s own rules, but it cannot suspend the Brown Act, which requires such an action to be properly agendized.
After an extended period of chaos and disorder and a shouting match predominantly featuring Councilmembers Mc Laughlin, Martinez and Jimenez, the City Council agreed to drop Gayle’s second motion and vote on the first one, which they approved.
The city attorney continued to inject her opinions throughout, which totally supported the RPA City Council members. I don’t know for a fact, but it appeared that they had all colluded on this in advance. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the city attorney appears to have become a dedicated RPA toady if not a card-carrying member of the organization.
What was this all about? I will explain in a subsequent E-FORUM.