Public Comment

When More is Less in Berkeley Politics

Gene Bernardi SuperBOLD (Berkeleyans Organizing for Liberty Defense) formerly Library Defense
Friday November 04, 2016 - 11:23:00 AM

Bad news for “More Open” Government appears to be coming down the pipeline based on a recent Berkeley City Council vote which only long time Councilmember, and Mayoral candidate, Kriss Worthington fortunately opposed. It was approved by Mayoral Candidates Arreguin and Capitelli. 

Councilmembers Arreguin, Capitelli, Wengraf and Droste comprise the City Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on a More Open Government. On September 13, 2016 the City Council voted, with only Councilmember Worthington abstaining, to approve the Committee’s recommendation for a Worksession in early 2017 to consider a plan that will deny many members of the public the right to speak at City Council meetings. This retrograde plan accomplishes this by: 1) Reinstituting speaker cards for all persons who wish to speak; 2) Limiting the amount of time allowed for public comment on each agenda item; 3) Cutting down the number of speakers on an agenda item by lottery in order to fit the time allotted. 

Apparently Mayoral candidate Kriss Worthington is the only Berkeley City Councilmember who remembers, or wishes to remember, Berkeley history. In 2006-07 Mayor Bates and the Council instituted new Public Comment procedures on agenda items. This stopped the use of a speaker card lottery. Annulling the lottery method for limiting the number of public speakers now allows all persons who wish to speak on an agenda item to do so. This change in Public Comment procedure evolved in response to a lawsuit threatened by The First Amendment Project (FAP) representing SuperBOLD. FAP had convinced the Council that, by using a speaker card lottery and denying some members of the public their right to speak, it was violating California’s Brown Act. For this work in advocating government more open to public participation, the Society of Professional Journalists in 2008 awarded SuperBOLD the James Madison Freedom of Information Award in the Citizen category. 

If you believe in participatory representative government and you want to retain your right to speak at City Council meetings, vote for Kriss Worthington for Mayor on November 8. 

Also watch for the early 2017 Worksession on “More Open” Government which may shut you out. If the Council wants shorter meetings they could meet more frequently. Only ONE meeting, October 18, was scheduled for this month!