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By Roz Rogoff

About this blog: In January 2002 I started writing my own online "newspaper" titled "The San Ramon Observer." I reported on City Council meetings and other happenings in San Ramon. I tried to be objective in my coverage of meetings and events, and...  (More)

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Waiting to speak in Public Comment

Uploaded: May 15, 2011
Those of you who followed the "San Ramon Observer" for the many years I've been writing about and speaking at City Council Meetings know I regularly attend meetings and frequently have something to say in Public Comment. I am not happy with the recent rescheduling of Public Comment from the beginning of the meeting to the end of the meeting.

I've been planning to write something in my blog here about the change to Public Comment from Item 6 on the City Council Meeting Agenda to Item 12. Jim Gibbon's comments on my last blog on Grand Jury Report 1104 gave me the perfect opportunity to fill in the blanks about why Public Comment was moved and why Jim Gibbon is responsible for it being at the end of the meetings now.

Here's an excerpt of what Gibbon wrote in my last blog entry on Grand Jury Report 1104:

"Two years ago the council was fond of complaining that no one came to the council meeting. Now they complain that people come only to complain about how the council is not licensing (sic) to them. This council is schizophrenic about having residents questioning their power and secrecy.

About two months ago the council got so frantic about complaints that they changed the agenda of council meeting to put the Public Comment portion of the meeting to the end of the session. By that time no one is ever there."

I couldn't find it in the minutes but I recall Kevin L'Hommedieu requested moving Public Comment later in the meetings because he said it was difficult for a working person or business owner to finish work, go home, clean up, eat dinner, and make it to the meetings in time to speak in Public Comment. I believe he said that when he spoke in Public Comment at the November 9, 2010 Council Meeting. However, Public Comment was still Item 6 on November 23, 2010 when I spoke at that meeting about TV30's delay in broadcasting meetings.

The Agenda for the December 14, 2010 meeting shows Public Comment as Item 6, but the Minutes of the meeting say, "Public Comment deferred until after New Business." Carol Lopez, Jim Gibbon, Kevin L'Hommedieu, and I were the speakers in the deferred Public Comment that night.

According to the minutes of the January 11, 2011 Council Meeting, Jim Gibbon, ". . . stated his objections to having Public Comment moved to the end of the Council agenda. He feels that having the Public Comment at the end of the meeting is more reclusive. Mayor Wilson stated that the change was made in response to residents' comments requesting Public Comment later in the agenda. The change was made to better serve residents. Mr. Gibbon asked the Council to track resident participation. He noted that some speakers will not wait to the end of the meeting and suggested that the Council rethink this change."

As of now Public Comment is still Item 12 on the Agenda. I, like Gibbon, would like to see it moved back to the earlier position, but I at least remember the real reason the Council now wants to keep it between the City Manager's Comments and Councilmember Reports.

At the October 26, 2010 City Council Meeting Gibbon got into an argument with Councilmember Dave Hudson when Hudson tried to answer something Gibbon said in Public Comment. Here is the description from the Minutes of that meeting.

"Jim Gibbon, representing San Ramon for Open Government and No on Measure [W, stated that Measure W rezones the North Camino Ramon area to mixed use without proper study. He feels it is an attempt to drive land prices up which will push tenants and landowners out. He stated that Measure W is bad for San Ramon. He stated that if Measure W fails, the current General Plan 2020 will continue for ten years. Cm. Hudson requested to speak. Mr. Gibbon objected to Cm. Hudson's comments under Public Comments. He requested that those comments be presented at the appropriate time. Vice Mayor Rowley asked for direction from City Attorney Sheryl Schaffner. She stated that the presiding Mayor Pro Tem can decide to take matters on the agenda out of order. Cm. Hudson deferred his comments to Councilmember Reports. Vice Mayor Rowley stated that it is appropriate for Council to clarify information under Public Comment."

When Gibbon asked the Council to move Public Comment back to its earlier time at the January 11, 2011 meeting, Councilmembers Hudson and Rowley replied that they wanted to keep it where it is. Here's what they said under "COUNCILMEMBER REPORTS" from the minutes of the January 11, 2011 meeting.

"Cm. Hudson stated that he does not see a problem changing the Public Comment to later in the agenda. This allows the Council an opportunity to respond to questions or issues raised in Public Comment. He noted that the Council can take no action on either Public Comment or Council Comments. He noted that other Boards organize their agendas with Public Comment at the end and suggested that the Council try it.

Cm. Rowley noted that, in the previous format, when questions were raised under Public Comment, the Council could not respond. She suggested that the Council try this as a compromise."

So at least according to the Council's reasoning this wasn't because, "They are becoming paranoid about their on (sic) power," as Gibbon characterized it in his reply to my blog.

Personally I don't like to wait to say what I want to say. I don't use notes when I speak, but I rehearse what I plan to say in my head and sometimes I mutter and talk to myself whether alone or in public. Yes I'm one of those people.

I was waiting to say something about tearing down Mudd's Restaurant at the March 8, 2011 City Council Meeting. I kept building it up in my mind, like Danny Thomas' old Jack Story. If you are not old enough to remember that routine, Thomas told the story of a man in the desert with a flat tire and no jack. While he's walking back to a gas station to borrow a jack, he's thinking about what the gas station owner might say or do; so by the time he gets there he's so pent up with his imaginary scenario he explodes and says, "You can take your stinkin' jack and shove it . . ."

It's a lot funnier than my summary here, but while I was waiting for Public Comment I was building up to "shove the jack," in my mind. So I put in a speaker card on the Public Hearing for the Harlan House just to get up and say something, but then went into a rant about Mudd's. Ah, very embarrassing. I finally agreed the Harlan House should be saved too, but at least it let me vent without waiting another hour for Public Comment to commence.

So should Public Comment be brought back to the beginning of the meeting or kept at the end. Some of you might agree with Gibbon and some might see the rationale of placing Public Comment right before Councilmember Reports as perfectly reasonable. Whichever side you take you should let the Council know, and they might move it back or might continue to ". . . keep it close to the vest by controlling every aspect of power," as Jim Gibbon believes.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Paul Mitchell, a resident of another community,
on May 16, 2011 at 11:04 pm

As someone who used to speak at Public Comment in the San Ramon City Council agendas, I would support leaving the Public Comment for later in the meeting, if I was still attending meetings. I have observed a few other citizens use the Public Comment time to state information that was either untrue, misleading, or downright wrong. In past meetings the Councilmembers were unable to respond until the end of the agenda in Councilmember Comments, long after the citizens' comments had lingered unchallenged in the chambers and on the television recording. I believe it is better to have the citizens' comments followed immediately by councilmember comments at the end of the agenda, not to create a debate, but rather to keep comments on an issue closer together.

Posted by Seamist, a resident of another community,
on May 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

As a former resident who attended meetings and sat through more than one Gibbon-rant, I totally agree with Paul Mitchell that the comments should stay in their new location. It is fair to the council members who really work hard every day of the month to make San Ramon a fabulous community to live in. It is fair to the residents who would like to come to a meeting but have trouble arriving earlier. The council members should have the opportunity to respond and set things straight for concerned residents who despite their best efforts to participate, still don't always understand how some things have to be done to comply with the laws, regulations, and requirements that apply in a myriad of circumstances. I have seen how many hats the Cms wear on behalf of the residents and the efforts they make to represent everyone, including the residents with an over-blown sense of entitlement who never seem to have the time to contribute anything but grouse if they don't like something that's been done. As for the compensation, you get what you pay for, Mr. Moniz's salary included. However, I do think everyone should contribute to their own retirement and if they are lucky they could get a matching amount not a 100% taxpayer gift.

Posted by MLOliver, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

As a member of the San Ramon City Council at the time the first agenda was conceived, we all felt it was important for members of the community to have their say early in the meetings. There was so much routine business to be done in setting the goals for the new city, that meetings lasted long into the evening, and we didn't want those who wished to participate to have to wait through the tedium. We also instituted a 5 minute time limit. This worked very well until some citizens started abusing that privilege. Jim Gibbon was among the worst offenders. Many times he refused to adhere to the time limit. Not only that, he would often comment on nearly every public hearing later in the meeting. We often discussed moving the Public Comment to the end of the meeting, but still felt it was unfair to the many who had serious points they wanted to bring up to the council. I agree with Seamist that "residents with an over-blown sense of entitlement" can spoil it for those who have pressing issues to present to the Council. To prevent disruptions, it is timely to move the Public Comment section to the end of the meeting still keeping in mind that nothing can be decided or debated except an action to put the issue on a future agenda. It will also give Council Members an opportunity to clear up misconceptions presented by the speakers.

Posted by B. Simons, a resident of San Ramon,
on May 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

It kind of seems like a long time to wait to the end of the meeting if you are there for a quick input or question. The abusers have ruined it for those who play by the rules. I guess you can e-mail in a comment and ask for it to be read into public comment. I too get disgusted with the usual suspects who grandstand and drone on for 10 to 15 minutes; repeating the same points over and over again. I guess they like to hear themselves talk. My question is: why doesn't Mayor Wilson put a stop to the time abuses? 5 minutes is 5 minutes. Don't allow them over 5 minutes. Your 5 minutes is up - - now take a seat! Turn off the microphone & camera, temporarily adjourn the meeting - - or whatever it takes. Another game these folks used to play was to submit speaker cards at the very last minute during public comment (instead of prior to opening public comment)just so they could have the "last word" and make a final splash that could not be countered by others who had already spoken. Jim Blickenstaff was the best at using this trick. Gibbon (or " Mr. Gibbons" as Wilson likes to call him) takes the cake on time overage abuse! Put public comments back to the beginning of the meeting and enforce the 5 minute rule - - with no exceptions. If the council is upset because they cannot respond to false claims and statements, then why can't they add an item to the agenda right after the public comments to allow council comments to public input. That way it is agendized, and council response is allowed? No action or decision would be made.

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