Today, I’ll be considering whether to eventually write about the Sonoma City Council’s policy in which they ponder an issue before firmly deciding to discuss it.
If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. But as convoluted as it initially seems, it’s at the heart of how many cities’ decisions come to be, including Sonoma’s.
And many a city decision comes down to the wonky nature of city council agendas – the council members’ list of issues to grapple with at their twice-monthly public meetings. Which, on the list of interesting things to the average Sonoman, probably falls somewhere below watching the latest slurry seal on the east side. But its importance can’t be understated: the council agenda is a point-in-time reflection of the city’s current priorities. Or, put it this way – leaf blowers didn’t dominate countless hours of city time by accident – a council member had to ask for it to be placed on the agenda. Three years and little else later, a lot of people were asking – how did the leaf blower thing ever happen?
And the simple answer is: because it was on the council agenda. And it wouldn’t go away.
That very question – the question of how three hours of a meeting agenda is set every first and third Monday of the month – was on the tips of more than a few tongues Aug. 14. That’s when the marquee item on the city’s meeting agenda was the “discussion, consideration and possible action” to “schedule a council discussion” to review a city contract with the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau.
For those of you still reading – and thank you for your patience, all three of you – as per city policy, the council was discussing whether to schedule a discussion of the contract. That’s right, they were discussing discussing it. It seems there’s a little known ordinance – Resolution No. 25 from 2011 you may recall – which requires that in order for a council member to have a specific item appear on a council agenda they must first have it green lit by a majority of the council.
And, yes, for those of us who have mocked the libertarian supposition that all government is an exercise in futility – our city is in flames.
Not surprisingly, some meeting attendees found all this discussing about discussing, well, something worth talking about.
Former councilmember Larry Barnett, for one, longed for the halicon days of yesteryear when, to borrow from “All in the Family,” girls were girls, men were men -- and city policy “respected the people that were elected.”
“We didn’t have the rule you have (now),” said Barnett. “(If a council person wanted it), it was on the agenda – it didn’t require a council (vote) about whether to discuss something.”
Barnett then called for someone on the council to ask to have it placed on the discussion agenda for a possible future discussion.
Resident Chris Petlock seemed flabbergasted at the existence of any city agendas at all.
“Month after month the agenda is full – how does all this stuff get on the agenda?” he asked with the kind of amazement typically reserved for such times as when David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. “It doesn’t seem to be coming from you, because we never see you discussing it.”