Earlier this year, county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett convinced her colleagues to make some major changes to their meetings, including meeting publicly less often and posting initial agendas a week earlier.
Now, with meetings jam-packed with items and massive supplemental agendas to sift through, some of her fellow supervisors have grown irritated – and are speaking out.
Tuesday’s board meeting, for example, had 111 items up for a decision. The supplemental agenda alone, which contained just 17 of those items, was 832 pages long – all in a single, massive document without a listing of which pages particular items could be found on.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he was “very frustrated” this past week and weekend trying to get prepared, with the new schedule putting “enormous pressure on us.”
“This was a horrible, horrible, horrible agenda to be prepared for,” said Spitzer, pointing to the six binders of materials he had to go through. “This was a very dense, intense agenda.”
Supervisor Andrew Do also had concerns about the new schedule, saying he recognizes “the frustration that we all face.”
The new two-meeting-per-month schedule is a “tough target to meet,” Do added, suggesting that he and his colleagues look at a better way of handling the situation.
In February, Bartlett – who had recently become the board’s chairwoman – succeeded in getting changes passed that cut down the supervisors’ meeting schedule from 30 to 24 regular meetings per year and extended agenda posting to two weeks in advance, as opposed to one week.
Bartlett sold the change as a way to give the public and supervisors more time to read the agenda and get questions answered by staff before public meetings.
Most of her colleagues pushed back at the time, with Supervisor Shawn Nelson saying the changes were unnecessary and could get in the way of how the county operates.
On Tuesday, Bartlett was hopeful that any kinks with the new schedule could be worked out, saying that by continuing to “work through” it, supervisors will ultimately get “good results.”
County CEO Frank Kim also weighed in, saying he didn’t believe county departments are “fully prepared” for the two-meeting-per-month schedule. It often takes several months to prepare an agenda item for a board meeting, he added.
“I think the challenge for us is getting departments – and our office…more experience and to have the process more ironed out smoothly,” Kim said.
The benefit of the new approach, Kim said, is “more consistency” for staff in terms of when items are coming up, and it gets county staff to communicate further in advance with supervisors’ staffers.
And he said this week’s supplemental agenda was only 8 percent larger than typical for this time of year, given that the fiscal year is almost over.
“It is typical and normal for us to have 100-plus items in May and June. That is standard,” Kim said.
Orange County supervisors now meet far fewer times than their counterparts to the south.
County supervisors in San Diego County – which is similar in population size to Orange County – have 39 regular meetings per year, compared to Orange County’s 24.
Like Orange County’s current schedule, the San Diego County board generally meets during two weeks each month. But for each week they meet, supervisors hold two meetings, on back-to-back days (Tuesday and Wednesday).
Orange County supervisors also expressed frustration Tuesday at what they described as last-minute requests by staff to extend contracts that are about to expire.
“This is not really acceptable,” said Supervisor Michelle Steel, adding that department heads should let the supervisors know six months before contracts expire.
Bartlett also urged more advanced notice, saying that when contracts come up only a month before they expire, it “really backs us in a corner.”
Bartlett and Steel also urged departments to give more metrics on how programs are doing before their contracts come up for renewal, saying that if they don’t, it will be “difficult” for supervisors to approve them.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.