In the Weekly’s newsroom, we talk about various city councils, deciding what looks most interesting on an upcoming agenda (or which agency is trying to get away with what shenanigan) so the reporter who covers that city can keep track. In terms of being alerted to shenanigans, we often rely on sources – those within various city halls and members of the public who reach out – as a means to keep track of the dozen city councils and dozens of other boards and agencies that run the governments of Monterey County.
One such agenda item came up on March 4, accompanied by outreach along the lines of, “Have you seen this?” For the city of Seaside, it was a doozy: A draft ordinance enabling the mayor (currently, that’s Ian Oglesby) to remove items from a council agenda prior to the agenda being published “to better manage the time and flow of the conduct of the city’s business,” according to a report from Seaside City Attorney Sheri Damon. In essence, it means that if the mayor doesn’t want something on a council agenda for public discussion, it won’t end up there. If a majority of the council wants something on an agenda and the mayor refuses, they have to call a special meeting to make it happen.
It’s a move that might more typically happen in a “strong mayor” city, one in which the mayor and city council are elected separately and the mayor has greater control and responsibility. But Seaside is structurally a “weak mayor” city, as is typical of smaller cities, in which the mayor has no formal authority outside the council and a hired city manager runs the business of the city. (In Monterey County, all mayors and councilmembers are volunteers; the day-to-day work is done by paid staff.)
What prompted the ordinance, Damon says, was as the ordinance stated: A quest for efficiency, and to better manage the time and flow of meetings. More efficient, especially in the time of tedious Zoom meetings, is better. It’s not uncommon for Seaside’s meetings to run late into the night.
But the March 4 discussion was anything but efficient – it was two-and-a-half hours of finger pointing, recriminations and jousting for power. Members of the Seaside Ministerial Alliance aligned behind Oglesby, while a veritable “opposition chorus,” as Editor Sara Rubin put it during her Twitter coverage of the meeting, opposed the ordinance because of the damage – perceived or real – that it could do to government transparency. Many took pains to point out it wasn’t that they didn’t trust Oglesby, they worried what a future mayor might do with the power.
As speaker Annalisa Mitchel put it, “This is just not right. Everybody has an equal vote on that dais.”
With councilmembers Jon Wizard and Jason Campbell firmly in the “no” camp on the ordinance – they sent constituent emails asking them to oppose it, and called it “un-American” and “antidemocratic” – it was up to Dave Pacheco and Alexis García-Arrazola to keep Oglesby, Wizard and Campbell from fighting. First Pacheco, and then García-Arrazola, proposed substitute motions. García-Arrazola’s, which proposed a buddy system that would require two members to put something on an agenda, won out 3-2.
But so did Oglesby’s. After that two-and-a-half hour discussion, Damon is drafting another ordinance on how items get agendized – and the council had to vote to extend the length of its meeting past 10:30pm.
After that ordinance passed, and after the amount of time it took, the council spent only 15 minutes discussing the next item on the night’s agenda: an update to the city’s general plan, the document that lays out the city’s future growth and development plans.
It’s also worth noting that on March 8, four days after that meeting, Seaside’s Assistant City Manager Lesley Milton-Rerig submitted her resignation to the city council. She declined a request to speak about it beyond what she wrote, but in the letter, she hinted at the council’s schism.
“Please continue to support each other and work collaboratively with staff. In that, I urge you to temper your expectations with the reality of staff capacity,” she wrote. “You are all there for the same purpose: to provide exceptional services to the community. If you work together, you can move Seaside forward, faster.”