OC Supervisors Issue Another Crackdown on Speakers During Public Meetings

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

County Supervisor Michelle Steel at a supervisors meeting.

The ongoing crackdown on public comments by Orange County supervisors at their regular meetings has reached the point where how much time you have to speak apparently depends on who you are.

And no matter who you are, you better speak quickly.

Supervisor Michelle Steel, in her first meeting as chairwoman of the board, instituted a one-minute limit on speakers during this Tuesday’s meeting. But when it came time to impose the limit, she was more lenient with corporate executives than she was with county workers and homeless advocates.

This was the shortest speaking allotment in memory, and is the latest in a series of moves by supervisors in recent years to curtail public comments at their regular meetings, which are one of the few venues where county residents and employees have the opportunity to directly address their top elected officials.

Historically, members of the public could speak for up to three minutes per item on the supervisors’ agenda. This was in addition to being able to speak during a general public comment period about topics not on the agenda.

But things started to change in 2012, after local resident Michael Klubnikin irritated supervisors by using multiple agenda items at each meeting as a platform to accuse them of a conspiracy involving the seizure of his mother’s properties. They responded by capping commenters to a total of nine minutes of speaking per meeting.

Then, during their meeting on Election Day this past November, supervisors cracked down further by ending public comments when individual items come up.

From that day forward, each commenter was limited to a single three-minute speaking window per meeting, regardless of the number of agenda items they wanted to address. Then-Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, who buried the proposed changes on page 110 of the meeting’s supplemental agenda, said her goal was to make “more efficient use of everyone’s time, particularly to the public.”

Bartlett’s proposal passed on a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Todd Spitzer casting the dissenting vote. Spitzer said the new rule is unfair to constituents who came to speak about two or three different agenda items.

But even those limits weren’t enough for Steele when she realized that 58 people had submitted requests to comment at Tuesday’s meeting.

Some had come to speak about homelessness. Others were county social service eligibility workers speaking as part of their union about staffing and wages. And about half of all the speakers were there on behalf of companies seeking county contracts to service corporate jets and other private planes at John Wayne Airport.

After opening the meeting, Steel noted the number of speakers and asked County Counsel Leon Page what her options were.

Page said the board’s rules allowed her to shorten comments to less than three minutes per speaker when the total public comment period is expected to last more than 20 minutes. He added that Steel could ask groups to choose a single spokesperson to speak on their behalf.

Steel then turned to the county workers, noting the green AFSCME union buttons they were wearing, and asked the “green buttons” group to designate a spokesperson. They declined.

Steel responded by imposing her one-minute limit. And she made it a point to tell the workers that “comments are not [to be] repetitive. Make sure that, you know, we are not listening to the same thing.”

None of the other supervisors objected.

The first several speakers were executives with aviation companies, asking for supervisors’ votes on John Wayne Airport contracts up for a decision later that day. But when they went over the one-minute mark, they were allowed several sentences further, without interruption.

The president of a corporate jet services company, for example, spoke for a minute and a half before Steel politely asked him to “sum it up please.” She then let him speak for another 36 seconds, giving him a total a total of about 2 minutes of speaking time.

The very next speaker was Diana Corral, the workers’ union president. Steel handled her very differently.

“Make sure that you [take] just one minute,” Steel told her. Corral said she and her colleagues would comply and went on to say that the county’s eligibility workers are extremely understaffed and not able to respond to as many as 1,000 calls per month from people seeking assistance getting foster care support and health care programs for children.

The next employee who spoke went 30 seconds over the limit and received an irritated admonishment from Steel to “stay in one minute.”

Later, a hospitality manager for a jet company was allowed to continue speaking without interruption after the speaker light turned red about how her company could accommodate private jet fliers by arranging “a VIP wine tour and limo for a group of 20.” 

Some commenters who spoke about poverty, homelessness and other low-income issues were given leeway to go over the minute mark, but several others were immediately cut off when the light turned red.

When it came time for Klubnikin to speak, he made his displeasure clear by mocking the supervisors in a deep voice.

“‘We don’t need no stinkin’ public comments. We’re the supervisors!’” Klubnikin said. “Shame on all five of you.”

He wondered aloud if anyone would be willing to sue the supervisors for violating the state’s open meetings law, the Ralph M. Brown Act. The law says public comment limits must be “reasonable.”

None of the supervisors responded to the criticism.

Update: This story has been updated to note that none of the other supervisors objected to the new limits.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • Lori

    This is a rare post where the people commenting who are usually attacking each other’s views on other posts are actually in agreement. Of course LF had to go and inject his partisan opinion, but it was nice while it lasted. Sanders and Trump challenged the status quo with their campaigns however BOTH sold out by running within the two-party system. Neither of them had the “huevos” to challenge this country’s tired two party system. That’s the status quo that has to go.

    • verifiedsane

      Come down off your holier than thou partisan horse there Lori. Benedict Bernie was just being used by the to whip up the democratic parties most extreme elements, and was never going to be allowed to be anything more than that. Thou, President Trump is far from truly independent; he is as close to a third party candidate that the ruling class establishment would ever allow to be placed before the America people for serious consideration in modern times. I find it interesting that you single out LF, and ignore the many from the extreme Left that spew away their fake news, far left agenda, and propaganda continually in comments here. That’s makes you little more than another hypocritical voice from the partisan swamp that you so vehemently criticize.

      • Lori

        Wtf are you even talking about?? You make no sense. Not a single person who comments here is NOT partisan.
        I was pointing out that for once people were agreeing on something until someone went off on a tangent that threw things off track then I stated MY OPINION about the need to move away from the two party system. If you don’t agree with my opinion that’s fine but that doesn’t my thoughts fake news. Who is acting holier than who here? Why are you attacking me for not seeing things YOUR way? I have never even interacted with you on a single post.
        Sounds like you’ve already smoked enough out of your pipe sooooo worry about yourself. How’s the weather up there from that horse you’re riding on? Talk about a pot calling the kettle black. Relax yourself!

        • verifiedsane

          What party were you planning on moving too Lori…The loon-bird party?

          • Lori

            How prolific

  • Mike Tardif

    One minute for public comments is not reasonable and is likely a violation of the Brown Act.

  • Jacki Livingston

    Perhaps one minute is the amount of time that they last in other aspects of their lives. Maybe it is their attention span. I really don’t know. But when you consider the amount of money that these incompetent, ridiculous, walking dead losers make, you have to wonder what else they have to do with their time. How many hours of the day can Todd Spitzer spend doing his hair? I know darn good and well that none of them are down at the CRO office of SSA, where the homeless citizens go for their welfare and food stamps, and the smell will knock you back six feet. You never see those plastic Ken and Barbie dolls down there. They are all so useless, you wonder what it is that they do with a single moment in the day. Do they need us to spell the big words? Does Toddy have an appointment back hiding behind his wife’s judicial robe, which is where he hid when I dealt with him. I think that this position should be made part time, if they are going to cut the time they deal with us down so sharply. Lord knows they rarely deign to wander out to the public unless they are campaigning. Hey Todd…do you know how long a minute is?

  • Jacki Livingston

    Dear Supervisors,
    You get paid a crap ton of money to sit on your precious behinds and LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE WHO VOTED FOR YOU AND PAY YOUR SALARY. Get over your lazy selves. We all know you are corrupt. We all know that Todd Spitzer takes bribes from mob connected owners of nursing homes. We all know that none of you give a hoot about the poor, the homeless or county employees. You are all as worthless as a nun’s habit in a strip club. You work for US, dimwits, so wake up! There is a resistance and a revolution coming, very soon, and you lot are about to find out just how replaceable you really are. Now get over your spoiled, lazy selves and listen to the people, because we know how you ignore county workers who report rape, drug dealing, murder and abuse to you. Not one of you is worth a nickel.

  • Citizens for Animal Shelter, O

    Isn’t this the reason Trump was elected, because neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were listening to the people???

    • LFOldTimer

      Trump was the only real non-establishment candidate running for President. That’s the reason he won the election. Trump is the only one with the heuvos to challenge the status quo. People are tired of being overrun with illegal immigrants and being targets of Islamic terrorist attacks and having our jobs sent overseas.

      Trump has done more good for US citizens in his first week in office than Obama did in 8 years.

      • Jacki Livingston

        I cannot agree with you when it comes to DumpTrump, however, I do agree that we need to reach outside of the same old/same old, for leaders in the future. That’s why the Dems are going to reach for some unusual candidates in 2020, going away from Warren/Sanders and all that, and going to a Kennedy/Obama ticket. I cannot wait!

      • I must disagree with you on trumpalumpa, Do you really think appointing campaign contributing billionaires to the very posts they are against is for the good of the people. I wonder why all of the top Department of State management resigned when Exxon assumed the office of Secretary of State? Actually, Bernie was the only candidate that had worker class American support, but we can guess what happened there, within a week of being appointed he made calls as president elect to the presidents of Argentina and Taiwan as he wants to build his hotels there, and the call to Taiwan is a big slap in the face at our biggest creditor, Communist China. The leaks are already coming out of the White House how childish & unmanageable he is.

        • LFOldTimer

          Dweeze – if Trump was part of the establishment he wouldn’t sign all those executive orders upsetting the status quo on both the left and the right. No other POTUS has dared go where he’s gone in his first week in office. If Trump was establishment he wouldn’t make huge waves in his first week. .

          Some of his cabinet members were power brokers in certain industries and the investment markets. To get things done in government requires influence. Rather than judging Trump by who he appoints to his staff – why not judge him by outcomes?

          Bernie was a phony. The Wikileak emails showed that both Hillary and the DNC unethically sabotaged his candidacy in the democrat primary. Knowing this, he locked arms with Hillary when she won the nomination and campaigned for her. lol. Then Bernie purchased lakefront property in Vermont – his 3rd property valued at 3x’s the price of the average home in Vermont. And what about the millions of dollars left in his campaign fund? What’s that being spent on? Oh, but he’s just like you and me. lol.

          • Yes, the guy that complained about President Obama governing thru Exec Orders signs exec orders written by white supremist bannon that trumpalumpa did not even read. I hear not a word about my main complaint about trumpalumpa, His Cabinet appointments, an anti-labor campaign contributor for the Department of Labor, An anti public school campaign contributor for Dept. of Education, an avowed racist & segregationist for Attorney General, and a Russian Award winning Exxon CEO as Sec of State. ( I recently read the entire management staff of the DOS resigned from service when he took the lead of that office.) How about trumpalumpa reorganizing the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

          • LFOldTimer

            I suggest you judge Trump by his outcomes – not by characterizing a few of his appointees. That would be the fair approach.

            He overturned TPP. Would an establishment POTUS overturn TPP worth trillions of dollars to billionaires and globalists all over the world, Dweeze? Of course not.

            Don’t fall into the trap of judging a POTUS by his political party or due to anger for defeating 16 establishment GOP’s in the primary and the establishment’s darling Hillary in the Presidential election, against all odds.

            Be fair and judge him based on his outcomes.

          • trumpalumpa defeated the TPP? No, it was gone before the election. Just as the Dakota & Keystone pipelines were defeated, They are back… In 1932 Germans said, “Yes he sounds dangerous, but give him a chance, he will mellow out” He didn’t. and charactarizing a FEW of his appointees? ALL of them, every one has a intention to destroy the departments they are supposed to run. Look at recent events, removing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff & the intelligence chief from the national security council and placing bannon, bannon who has stated publicly that we will be at war in the South China Sea within a few years?

          • LFOldTimer

            Oh Dweeze. Stop playing the Hitler card. I gave Obama a chance. Give Trump a chance. After 6 months if you feel the same way we can chat about it then.

  • I did not see one comment mention how steel allowed Aviation CEO’s exceed the 2 minute, oops, I mean 1 minute time limit. example: “Later, a hospitality manager for a jet company was allowed to continue speaking without interruption after the speaker light turned red about how her company could accommodate private jet fliers by arranging “a VIP wine tour and limo for a group of 20.” ” What the hell did wine tours have to do with contract negotiations? Maybe the supes want to take advantage of the (free) VIP wine tour?

    • LFOldTimer

      All the animals in OC are equal, Dweeze. But some are more equal than others. It all comes down to inside connections.

  • Jasenn

    Steel’s restriction on hearing from the public is a clear acknowledgement on how little the BOS cares about the citizens who elect them. This is a disgrace and the antithesis of the principles on which this country was founded.

  • Dailysportseditor

    Great piece by Nick Gerda and Voice of OC. This is why we all need to support the actual exercise of a free press. The more government officials, especially elected politicians, curtail individual free speech, the more we need media like Voice of OC.

  • OCservant_Leader

    This is scary as h*ll.

    Chairwoman Steel is the perfect representative of this corrupt regime. She follows the money- only.

    She has no understanding, education or experience about our Democracy. You will never find a “meeting of the minds” on the role of our government with her or others like her who are ruling the bureaucracy.

    She comes from a place where government is expected to be corrupt, is ruled by and benefits the weathiest top %1 only and the average citizen’s voice is continuously silenced.

    She literally speaks another language-and it’s not Democracy.

    • LFOldTimer

      I wouldn’t be so worried if it was only Empress Steel who shut down public discourse at the government meeting. However, Gerda didn’t mention in his blog that any of the other supervisors objected to her actions. If no one spoke up in opposition I can only assume she had full complicity from the rest of the board.

      All 5 should take a refresher course in who pays the county’s bills and finances their fat salaries and pensions. Even if they had to sit there until 8 o’clock at night to listen to the OC residents participate in the government process and express their concerns…..hey, that’s their damn job! If they don’t want to spend the time to listen to the people – they should resign their seats. They’re in the wrong business!

      • Thanks for bringing to our attention that the other supervisors’ reactions weren’t mentioned. In response, we updated the article early this afternoon to make it clear that none of the other supervisors objected to Steel’s move to shorten the speaking limits.

        Nick Gerda

  • verifiedsane

    Leadership by the government and for the government: the people & citizenry are just inconveniently there to serve their ruling masters. If the people of OC haven’t figured out who’s the problem by now, then they will get exactly what they desire…continued corrupt OC government under the rule of criminal fascist

  • LFOldTimer

    These supervisors are completely out of control. It’s like all 5 raised their middle fingers at the basic American belief that government is of, by and for the people. Apparently not one supe objected to Steel limiting the speakers to 1 minute of talk time each? If so, IMO all 5 are unfit to hold a political office under our form of government. What they’re doing is grossly unAmerican.

    Do the math. The meeting lasted about 4 hours. Had they allowed the 58 speakers their full 3 minutes it would have added about an extra 2 hours to the meeting.

    The supe meetings start at 9:30am and run to noon. That’s 2.5 hours. Then there’s a 1.5 hour break for lunch. The meeting resumes at 1:30pm. Since the meeting ran 4 hours it’s safe to assume the meeting adjourned at about 3pm since 1.5 hours (4 minus 2.5) remained on the clock after break. So had the 58 speakers been given an extra 2 minutes of talk time that meant that the meeting would’ve adjourned at about 5pm instead of 3pm. So what? It should be assumed that a county supe meetings would adjourn at about 5pm. That’s a normal workday for God sakes.

    Based on the math, was it REASONABLE for Steel to take 2 minutes of talk time away from the 58 civic-minded citizens who interrupted their normal daily routines to participate in the county government process? IMO absolutely not. This action should be investigated as a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act. Michelle Steel is a county supervisor. She’s not an Asian empress.

    Government meetings in America exist for the people. Otherwise the 5 kings and queens in county government could meet in secret at the Newport Beach Country Club every other Tuesday morning and conduct a meeting in-between rounds of golf.

    Seriously. This county is totally out of control. It’s no longer a democracy. More like a kleptocracy reserved for club members.

    • Jacki Livingston

      From now on, everywhere they speak, they should be limited to one minute. LOL! Every rotary club, every rubber chicken fundraiser, they can’t talk for more than a minute. In fact, it should be that way in the meetings. One minute. It takes Todd that long to stop talking about how fabulous he thinks he is.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Let’s limit them! OMG this is brilliant! The media should say – nope your minute is up- sit down. limit Their lies and fake OC news! We won’t miss much because NOTHING they spew is based on any fact.

        We need an alternative source of information. Clearly – It can’t be from the 5th floor PR or even building 10 anymore.

        We need OCEA or another source to start an alternative facts site.