Citizen denied Bridge City council agenda request

Published 1:02 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018

By Larry Holt

The Orange Leader

“You’re wrong. That’s not constitutional,” blurted out Bridge City resident Joseph Hannan from his position in the second row during the city council meeting held Tuesday evening.

His unsolicited outburst was in response to City Attorney Paul Fukuda correcting a female citizen who had requested she yield her unused minutes for public comments to Hannan.

Unable to yield her time, Hannan attempted to have the citizen read his prepared statement however she redirected her attention to another concern of her choosing.

Earlier in the evening Hannan had taken the podium for his allotted three minutes and used the time to admonish council members to actively listen to citizen concerns.

“I am running for city council and I have spoken with many citizens of the city over the past several weeks. Their common complaint is the city doesn’t care about their complaints,” Hannan said.

He then instructed the council to be effective leaders in the community they must address citizen concerns and “listen to people” instead of “at reelection time.”

Fukuda later clarified there is no provision for yielding remaining time during public comments and certainly nothing rising to the level of a constitutional right.

“The rule is, and I believe we follow what other counties and municipalities do, allowing each citizen three minutes to address the council on whatever topic they have during public comments,” Fukuda said.

“Managing time for each citizen is a matter of respect and courtesy for everyone wishing to address the council,” Fukuda said.

Hannan insisted the city attorney is wrong.

“Yielding remaining time is our constitutional right the same way congress does it,” Hannan said.

The last agenda item prior to adjournment concerned discussion and possible action to amend the City of Bridge City Council Decorum and Procedures Policy to provide procedures for the City to review, approve, and place citizen requests on the Bridge City Council Agenda stemming from a request by Hannan to have drainage issues placed on the agenda. His request for a hearing on the issue was denied.

Fukuda led the discussion, “The current policy spells out what the citizen is required to do to have an item placed on the agenda. The policy however does not have procedures spelled out what the City is required to do with it.”

“There are a lot of questions needing to be answered,” Fukuda said. “Are all citizen agenda requests automatically approved? Should there be procedures for someone, or a number of people to look at each request and make a decision on follow up action when the request is not sponsored.”

Council discussion clarified that a “sponsored” request is when two or more council members have reviewed the request and agree to have it placed on the agenda.

According to current Bridge City documents having a “sponsored” request is one avenue for a citizen to have their item placed on the agenda, but is not the only way.

Councilman Kirk Roccaforte offered, “Perhaps the Mayor would be the appropriate arbiter of citizen requests.”

It quickly became apparent to the council a workshop was needed to hammer out details to ensure the city has proper procedures for reviewing and accepting or rejecting agenda requests from citizens, and strike a balance of ensuring citizen issues are addressed appropriately and in a timely manner.

Hannan said he followed all the city rules to have his request for drainage issues approved as an agenda item, but was denied by the City Attorney in an email dated March 23, 2018.

The email from Fukuda to Hannan says in part, “…The city secretary has been in contact with me regarding a request that you have made to have items placed on our upcoming agenda… It has come to my attention that we will be required to clarify how citizen requests for agenda items are processed and implemented. The current policy does not specify that criteria… I apologize for the inconvenience as your request cannot be place on the agenda until this matter is resolved… Hopefully the policy can be amended so your request may be processed in anticipation of the following meeting.”

Section 12 of the City of Bridge City Council Decorum and Procedures Policy adopted by City Council on January 15, 2008 states: “Items may be placed on the Agenda either by the Mayor, the City Manager, the City Attorney, or at least two (2) members of the City Council…”

When asked why Hannan’s request was denied, Fukuda said, “We don’t have procedures for handling non-sponsored requests from citizens.”

When asked how non-sponsored requests had been handled in the past Fukuda said he has never had a non-sponsored request from a citizen before. All prior requests from citizens were all “sponsored” requests where two or more council members reviewed and approved the agenda item.

Section 17 Citizen Requests for Placement of Items on the Agenda says, “Citizens who wish to place an item on the Agenda must submit a written request to the City Secretary’s office by no later than 5:00 PM on the Tuesday afternoon preceding the City Council meeting the following week. The requesting party must describe in the request the subject matter about which the requestor is interested to enable staff advance time to research the matter and accumulate facts relevant to the issue for the City Council.”

Hannan said he had met all the requirements but is the only one rejected.

He said the action by the city attorney and council to discuss procedures for review and acceptance or rejection of citizen agenda item requests amounted to creating a system whereby citizen complaints can be shut down before seeing the light of day.

“Did you hear them?” asked Hannan. “Now they want the Mayor to be the one to decide what gets heard or not? This is not right.”