Friday, November 14, 2008

Willits City Council

Wednesday night's city council meeting had the full array of officials in attendance. The mayor sits directly in the center of the dais with three of her fellow council members on her right, and one on her left. Then there are the city manager, city lawyer, city clerk, and city planner. Their regular meetings are the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, except for Thanksgiving week.

As always, the meeting started with the US Pledge of Allegiance, performed by all citizens in the room. Then members of the community were invited to address the council with formal presentations of reports, or requests for action to be taken by the officials. When the speaker is finished, members of the council may ask for points of clarification, and then invite anyone else to step forward to speak to the same issue before deciding among themselves what action to take. Decision-making discussions must be conducted by the council during these public meetings, and not in any secret or "off the record" conversations together, so that the public may know how their local elected officials have made their decisions, and their reasoning for voting the way they do on the issues. Otherwise, they would be in violation of The Brown Act, a California law meant to keep local governments open and to reduce corruption. This is usually described as "transparency" in worldwide policy discussions.

At this meeting, a neighborhood leader described a dangerous pedestrian crossing on a state highway running through town, and asked the council to send a joint letter of support for a safer design to the State Transportation agency. Another speaker described the results of a community trash clean-up day, and thanked the council for supporting that in the past. Yet another speaker described his disappointment that newly built single family homes, in a recently approved development, had not been required to use drought tolerant landscaping instead of turf grass, which he said was contrary to the city's already adopted policies.

The entire meeting was recorded and broadcast live by a Community Television camera, to give even greater access to the proceedings for the citizenry. A few more pictures of the meeting are on my Overflow blog.


Dido said...

Very interesting! And your report of the meeting shows that the same issues crop up at council level wherever you are (roads, rubbish, housing) - certainly not different in Edinburgh City Council.

Kym said...

I'm impressed by the idea that Willits requires drought tolerant landscaping and sorry that they apparently aren't following through on it.

Benjamin Madison said...

An interesting post that describes admirable procedures. Those rows of empty chairs also say something.

USelaine said...

Dido - It is probably tedious review for most visitors to this blog, but I thought Willits offered a nice distillation of basic civil processes that we often take for granted. I like your reminder of how universal the challenges for cities are.

Kym - The speaker referred to mitigations adopted 22 years ago, when, apparently, the city expanded its borders to the southeast. I don't know how actual document was worded, since often such planning documents have wiggle words for policy "guidance" rather than explicit requirements with the force of law. Seen it, done it, been there. Especially in the 1980s.

Benjamin - The most exciting thing on the agenda, for my money, was that they repealed the water restrictions (yay!), since we have gotten a good start on our winter rain. Plus, not everyone had arrived yet, when I took that picture, and people tended to sit toward the back, where I was. Shyness? And, as I pointed out on the Overflow, people can watch what is going on at home by looking at channel 3. It gets rebroadcast later in the week, in case there are other things being done at the time. I've heard of people watching the meeting from home, then seeing something come up, or said, that they want to address. They hopped into their car, and raced on down to city hall. Small towns have their benefits.

Thank you all. Here's to free speech and open process!

Dina said...

Wow, I'm impressed. Long live home town American democracy.