After facing public outcry, the Fullerton City Council last week backtracked from a proposal to ban clapping at regular council meetings. They also updated meeting rules in hopes of making the public more involved.
Regular business will now come before the consent calendar, with the idea being that the change will give residents more opportunity to observe and participate in council discussions and witness votes on agenda items.
The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory and Councilman Doug Chaffee in favor; and councilmen Bruce Whitaker and Greg Sebourn dissenting.
The decision follows the March 15 council meeting when council members received sharp rebukes from residents after first proposing new meeting rules that would have prohibited clapping and other outward displays during meetings.
Also during that meeting, Flory made it a point to support the mayor’s ability to limit public discussion of agenda items that she considers redundant and irrelevant in order to speed up the meeting. The city’s meeting rules have given the mayor this power for at least 12 years, city documents show.
At last week’s meeting, activist Gary Gileno said the mayor shouldn’t be able to determine what is irrelevant or repetitive speech.
“The reason why 16 people are telling you the same thing is because you aren’t listening to what they say,” Gileno told the council.
Resident Sean Paden, also vice chair of the city’s design review committee, said the discretion given to the mayor falls too close to censorship.
“I think the anger you heard is entirely appropriate,” Paden told the council after giving them a nod for removing the proposed ban on clapping during meetings. He applauded the council briefly after his comment.
Other residents, including former Fullerton Mayor Molly McClanahan, told council members they should consider moving items pulled from the consent calendar after regular business in order to allow for more residents to watch or comment on regular business.
McClanahan said when she showed up to the March 15 meeting to speak about grants for land acquisition in West Coyote Hills, she had to wait over three hours for the council to get to the regular business portion because more than half of the consent calendar had been pulled.
“The issues of broad public interest and impact were not taken up until after 9:30 p.m.,” McClanahan told the council. “The public interest here is not to stifle comment or questions, but to place a higher priority on public issues.”
Resident Jane Rands told the council that better planning would help to solve the problem of getting to regular business and public hearings faster.
“Quite often, those items that get pulled are inappropriately put on the consent calendar,” Rands said.
When the City Council was considering amending the rules in 2012, the item fell under regular business both times it came before the council, city documents show.
During council discussion Chaffee suggested they should allow for the mayor to push items forward on the agenda if the council sees there is a large number of people who showed up for a certain agenda item.
Sebourn offered a simpler solution: push the consent calendar back as the last item of the meeting. Other council members quickly agreed with Sebourn’s suggestion.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.