By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
People hoping to address the Santa Rosa City Council on issues not covered by the meeting agenda will continue to wait until the end of the meetings to exercise that right.
Mayor Ernesto Olivares on Tuesday informed the council that he had considered but rejected Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre’s proposal to move the public comments to a more convenient time for the public.
“It is my intention to leave public comment where it is,” Olivares informed his colleagues. “I think past mayors have decided wisely to move it to the end.”
But Olivares said he was open to discussing the council’s practice of turning off television cameras for that portion of the meeting, something that some consider a form of censorship.
The issue of when the public should be allowed to speak to the council on issues unrelated to the agenda has vexed the council for years. Previous councils have accepted the comments — which often range from the reasonable to the delusional — at various times, including the beginning of the meetings, a set time in the middle and near the end of meetings.
But last year, the council pushed public comments to the very end of the meetings, which begin at 4 p.m. and can go past midnight. At the same time the city turned off the video cameras to take the soapbox away from those seen as using the council as a forum to spread ideas with little if any relation to the city.
Vas Dupre asked Olivares to schedule a time for the full council to revisit the issue. But Olivares said he had considered the issue and would not move the time.
He said council meetings by their nature are fluid and predicting the timing of items can be difficult for all participants. He also said citizens can speak on items on the agenda throughout the meeting, and city departments are responsive to issues raised by the public.
“They know they can pick up the phone, bring up issues with different departments and the city manager’s office, and they are addressed,” Olivares said.
Vas Dupre said she disagreed with the decision, noting that a recent council meeting didn’t wrap up until after midnight. “I think to expect the public to wait around for a time uncertain is unfair,” she said.
Vas Dupre added that she believed turning off the television camera for one portion of the public meetings is “a form of censorship.”
She pressed the mayor to have the whole council discuss the issue of the time of public comments, but he declined, agreeing only to a future discussion of the appropriateness of turning off the cameras.
“It is my prerogative as mayor to plan the agenda and when you or someone else is mayor, they may consider a different agenda if they wish to,” he said.
Vas Dupre then requested a formal vote on the subject. Her motion was voted down 4-3, with Olivares, John Sawyer, Jake Ours, and Scott Bartley voting against it.