BC may restrict citizen access to City Council agenda

Published 10:31 am Saturday, April 21, 2018

By Larry Holt

The Orange Leader


“Has there been a problem in the past getting items on the agenda?” asked councilmember Carl Harbert. His question came early during a workshop by the Bridge City – City Council on Tuesday – held to ferret out procedural specifics for having items placed on the agenda. The workshop was an information gathering and discussion session without citizen comments allowed.

Section 12 of the city council Decorum and Procedures Policy was discussed first and unambiguously states how items may be placed on the Agenda either by the Mayor, the City Manager, the City Attorney, or at least two members of the City Council, with no mention of the word “review.”

City Attorney Paul Fukuda explained the reasoning behind adopting procedural specifics, “We need nuts and bolts how an item gets placed on the agenda either by the council or from a citizen. What standard does the request go through to get reviewed after a request is submitted?”

As early as March 2018 prior to the workshop, Bridge City resident Joseph Hannan attempted to have his agenda item placed before the council but was rebuffed by Fukuda who opted at least temporarily to deny Hannan’s request for discussion.

In a March 23, 2018 email to Hannan, Fukuda explained his reason for having temporarily denied Hannan’s council agenda item request, “It has come to my attention that we will be required to clarify how citizen requests for agenda items are processed and implemented.”

Previously, Hannan said he had met all existing requirements for his agenda request, but he was 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.

During the workshop Fukuda rightly said, “I don’t review requests.”

Sections 12 and 17 of the Bridge City procedures don’t use the word “review” when addressing citizen agenda item requests – they merely cite specific steps an individual must take to have an audience and discussion of their issue before the council.

Workshop discussion centered around suggestions made by Mayor David Rutledge that, if adopted would require the citizen first speak with the Mayor, have the Mayor assign a council member as point of contact, have the council member meet with the City Manager, the City Manager then meet with the appropriate department head to receive information or correction about the issue, then retrace steps through the council member to the citizen.

All agreed, if the citizen issue is not resolved after the complete process, the citizen agenda item request will then be placed on the agenda for council discussion by the council member “citizen advocate”.

“We work for the citizen,” Rutledge said to the council. “Let’s work for the citizen as an advocate.”

After thirty minutes, the council approved a motion to table a resolution on the matter until the next council meeting. In the interim, Fukuda will consolidate comments and suggestions from the Mayor and council members into a working document the council can vote on.

Because the Mayor or another member of the Council did not perceive Section 12 or 17 of the policy was being or had been violated, a point of order called for in Section 24, “Violations of this Policy” was not entered. Therefore, it won’t be until a later date citizens of Bridge City will learn what was enacted on their behalf and therefore what steps are required before their issue will be “reviewed” and possibly accepted for redress before the city council.