The following interview with City Councilman TimBen Boydston is the very last interview he will ever give – at least without having to report it to the city manager or communications manager.
That’s because amendments to the City Council Norms and Procedures for the Santa Clarita City Council are being considered at Tuesday meeting. One of those revisions under Item G. “Council Conduct with the Media” reads:
“Council members shall inform the City Manager or the Communications Manager of any interview or comments made to the media about City projects or issues.”
Boydston sees this as akin to George Orwell’s dystopian Big Brother.
“One of the tools that the elected official has is the ability to interact with the free press without restriction, without notification. It chills free speech when you’re required to report every conversation with the press. It’s very 1984,” said Boydston.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kellar, who is on the subcommittee making the recommended changes along with Mayor Frank Ferry, emphasizes that this agenda item is just a work in progress.
“This isn’t in concrete. This is just a draft right now. And let’s see how the discussion goes tomorrow night. I would not be surprised at all if there were further modifications to it,” said Kellar.
One of the items that greatly disturbs Boydston, who often finds himself in the minority opinion, is how items will be placed on the agenda for public discussion. Currently any council member can request an item be put on the agenda by a simple request.
With the changes a council member will have to either ask the city manager for permission or get a majority vote from the city council to allow their item on the agenda. This would result in the council member having to pitch them on the idea.
“Yes, it would require three council members also feeling it’s important enough to take the council’s time to have this agendized. It’s the majority of the council feeling the issue is worthy enough to take the time,” said Kellar.
Boydston says opinions possibly popular with the public, but unpopular with the council might not get a hearing. He gave an example of such an item, one he intends to suggest for real sometime this year, and that’s term limits.
“Now, if I say I would like to see term limits put on the agenda and I’m shut down immediately it does not get put on the agenda. It means that it’s not noticed to the public. That means that the public doesn’t have a time and place to stand in front of the council and say ‘Hey we all think this is a good idea’. And so you just don’t have a thorough hearing of the idea you want to put on the agenda and a discussion and a vote,” said Boydston.
Revisions to Section 8 “Presentations and Events” would seem to be aimed directly at Boydston who twice tried to show video at a council meeting to support his position.
“If you (don’t) have the access to video you’re leaving a tool out of the toolbox to communicate with your fellow council people and your constituents. So anyone who is watching in the public can also get an understanding ‘Hey, this is what went on exactly’ because they can see it for themselves.
The addition to current norms would require an individual council member to obtain a majority vote of the city council in order to show a video, a PowerPoint presentation, “other visual aids, or public testimony.”
“It’s called respect for your other, your fellow council member’s time. And we all owe that to each other. You think we need to look at videotapes of prior council meetings when we’re in them?” said Kellar.
Time would also seem to be an issue under a change to the Item B “Council Conduct with One Another.”
The amendment states that councilmembers will provide the city manager with questions that will be asked publicly or during the council meeting ahead of time. Boydston has asked that agenda items on complex issues be given to council 10 days to two weeks prior to the meeting. As it is, he says he only has time to read long, convoluted issues shortly before the meeting and therefore wouldn’t have the questions ready for city staff far enough in advance. His request for an earlier look at agenda items has not been agendized as of yet.
Boydston also says the new changes would, by rule, disallow follow up questions. Kellar says these are only norms and that follow ups would not be a problem.
The city council meeting will be held at City Hall beginning at 6 p.m.