At a regular West Hollywood City Council Meeting on Monday, January 23, 2022, the City Council unanimously passed Agenda Item 5.D. which recommends the removal of the first Council Member Comments Section and keeps one Council Member Comments Section at the end of future meetings to shorten the length of the meetings which can sometimes run for six hours.
Agenda Item 5.D. was initiated by Councilmembers John Heilman and Chelsea Byers to addresses frustrations expressed by various community members that important topics are often not addressed until late at night after lengthy comments from members of the public and the City Council.
Council Member Heilman spoke on the issue at a previous council meeting. “The primary reason for this is to ensure that we’re able to do the Public’s Business as early as possible while we are still fresh,” he said. “There have been meetings in the past where council member comments have gone on for a substantial period of time and that has delayed important business items…this is a longstanding problem.”
Council member Heilman recommends the City Manager respond to public comments where community members are asking for assistance on issues like street lights not working. Issues can be directed to the appropriate Staff for help or the Manager can respond to an issue directly.
“I was eager to support this item,” said council member Chelsea Byers. “As somebody new to council, it helps me also clarify the specific period of time where I can make future directions for future agenda items. It felt like a really clear process orientation that also allows the public to step into a meeting with a clear sense of what they’re committing their time and energy to and getting to that business as quickly as possible.”
West Hollywood resident Annie Jump said she favored keeping the Council Member Comments Section in the front because she likes it when members of the public make their comments and the council responds. She said she believes community members will leave before they hear a response from the council if responses are made towards the end.
Rick Watts dittoed Ms. Jump’s concern, saying he too valued the public comments and wanted to hear what the council had to say to those comments. “I don’t necessarily want to stay for the entire meeting,” he said. “When I attend council meetings, the two things that I do always try to stay for is all the public comments and all the council comments…I really value hearing what you have to say.”
Council member Lauren Meister said she was supportive of the item, saying it was worth giving it a try and that if it didn’t work out, they could always change it back in six months.
Mayor Pro Tem John Erickson also supported the item and agreed that it would be good to have a conversation in four or six months to assess how it was going. He also confirmed with the City Attorney that the council could always move the Council Comments Section to the front if there was something happening in the world that required immediate comments and not have them at the end of the meeting. If the comments are moved to the front, it would have to be approved in the consent calendar.
Mayor Sepi Shyne said she was also in support of the Item. She asked if the makers of the Motion would consider moving the Attendance Report to the end of the meeting, but keep the responses to the public comments because said it was really important that council members are able to respond to public comments to validate them and address issues.
She also said the council should be able to make comments on consent items instead of pulling them out of the Consent Calendar. Pulling items out of consent will make the meetings run longer, she said. Currently, the council makes comments on consent items without pulling them out of consent.
Council member Heilman said he didn’t agree with making comments on consent calendar items because it was not clear if it was the direction of the council as a whole. “I think the better practice is for us to actually pull that item and have discussion and make it clear that this is the direction of the council, or maybe it’s just the direction of one council member,” he said. “That needs to be clarified for our City Staff and our City Manager.”
Heilman said he also didn’t agree with the notion that the council has to respond in the moment to people who are coming to the first Public Comment period when there are other people waiting to speak on agendized items. He said he trusted the City Manager and City Staff and he acknowledged that there is a balance where they do want to be responsive to public comments at the end of the meeting. He agreed to try it for six months to see if it works, and that if there were issues with responsiveness, that they could always move it back.
Mayor Shyne said she was willing to try it for six months and voted yes on the Motion. It passed unanimously.
The meeting ended at 8:38 p.m.