Laurelhurst Community Club
Serving 2800 Households in
Council President Peter Steinbrueck
Members of the City Council
City Clerk Judith Pippin
Re: Proposed Changes to Council Rules and Procedures—Is it true that Governments are from Saturn and Citizens are from Jupiter?
Dear Council President Steinbrueck, Members of the Council and Ms. Pippin,
The Laurelhurst Community Club Board of Trustees requests that you postpone voting on the proposed changes to council rules and procedures scheduled for today’s council meeting to allow citizens the opportunity to weigh in with recommendations. As noted at the September 8th Council briefings meeting, most of the proposed changes have been developed over the past two years, yet citizens have not had the opportunity to weigh in with recommendations.
There has been no effort to involve citizens in changes to the
Council’s rules. As the
We offer the following comments on the proposed changes to the rules
and additions to the rules. We also
The rules should reflect the council commitment to holding public hearings on important issues, rather than retaining the current language that states that “public hearings are not generally required…” (II.D). The Council and its committees have a good track record of holding public hearings. While the Council is only required by law to hold public hearings in certain limited areas, we recommend that you specify the kinds of policy issues that should be subject to public hearings. When not required by law, the current rules say that hearings are in the discretion of the committee chair.
The Council should provide electronic copies of the preliminary agendas
of full council and council briefings meetings to interested citizens and
groups (II.A.1.f. and II.A.2.e). On
State law requires that preliminary agendas for council meetings be made available to the public. That law lists various means for complying with this requirement such as publication of the agenda in the city’s official newspaper or posting the agenda, but leaves it to the city to specify the procedure to satisfy the intent of the requirement. We do not believe that requiring citizens to take the affirmative step of accessing the council’s website is sufficient. Those without computers, must go to the library to access the council’s website and that is not always an option due to the cutback in library hours.
Notice of special council meetings and special standing committee meetings should be provided to the public (II.B.1.b. and II.B.2.b). The Open Meetings Act requires that notice of special council meetings be provided “to each local newspaper of general circulation and to each local radio or television station which has on file with the governing body a written request to be notified of such special meeting or of all special meetings.” The Seattle City Council should provide notice to citizens beyond the minimum required by state law. An electronic mailing list already exists and it would seem that providing this notice would require minimal effort.
Electronic attendance at council meetings should not be allowed (II.F). The
Open Meetings Act does not expressly allow councilmembers to attend meetings
electronically. The staff position is
that because electronic attendance at meetings is not prohibited by state law,
then the Council can amend its rules to allow this type of meeting
attendance. Although the proposed rule
change in question relates to attendance at emergency meetings, the
There is great value in attending council meetings—viewing the interaction among councilmembers, the interaction that takes place with members of the audience and the dynamics of the meeting. This would be lost by allowing electronic attendance by councilmembers.
Two options have been presented for electronic attendance—multi-party telephone and video conferencing. With regard to the latter, we have questions as to whether video conferencing equipment is available and, if not, the cost of purchasing this equipment.
Should you move forward to allow electronic attendance at emergency meetings,
we ask that you specify procedures within the rules that must be followed. We recommend that attendance procedures
adopted by the City of
1. The councilmember attending via speakerphone
a. Must be able to hear the discussion on the agenda item taking place in the council chambers, and
b. Must be able to be heard by all present in the council chambers.
2. When the particular agenda item is ready to be discussed, the mayor (or presiding officer, if the mayor is not physically present) should state for the record:
a. Let the record reflect that Councilmember __________ is attending via speakerphone for agenda item no. ___, relating to ____________.
b. Councilmember __________, can you hear me? [There must be a clearly audible response in the affirmative.]
c. Let the record reflect that Councilmember ___________, who is attending via speakerphone, can be heard by all present in council chambers.
3. Upon conclusion of the particular agenda item, the mayor (or presiding officer, if the mayor is not physically present) should state:
a. Councilmember ___________, discussion on agenda item no. ___ has concluded. Thank you for your attendance via speakerphone. The telephone connection will now be terminated. [Connection should be terminated at this time.]
b. Let the record reflect that Councilmember ___________’s attendance via speakerphone has been terminated.
The reference to electronic attendance at public sessions should specifically state that it is limited to emergency meetings (III.A.1).
Council rules and procedures should specify the policies and procedures
for matters coming before the council (IV.A.1). The
current council rules state that all council bills, resolutions and clerk files
must be prepared for introduction according to established policies and
procedures. Just as citizens are
provided with information on how a bill becomes a law in the State Legislature,
similar information should be provided at the local level. When inquiring to get copies of
A council resolution placing a proposed charter amendment on the ballot (other than citizen initiated efforts) should not be introduced and passed at the same meeting (IV.A.2). In 2002, the Council recommended four proposed charter amendments. These measures were proposed with no citizen involvement, public hearing or advance notice of the text of each amendment. On matters as important as amending the Charter, the Council should not exclude the public from participation. The provision in the rules that prohibits the introduction of a bill and passage at the same meeting should be amended to include resolutions developed by the Council placing proposed charter amendments on the ballot.
The Council rules should specify that notice of Committee of the Whole meetings will be provided to the public (VII). This is the current practice and should be a part of the rules.
Policies governing the media should be set forth in the rules (XI.G.2). The proposed change to the rules states that “access by media shall be in accordance with Legislative Department policy.” This policy should be listed.
Quasi-judicial rules and procedures and appearance of fairness rules
should be included in the council rules and procedures. The
The Council Rules and Procedures should be posted on the Council’s website with hard copies available upon request. Understanding the rules promotes greater citizen participation in government. The Council’s website is preferable to the Clerk’s as the latter is harder for the average citizen to understand due to formatting of the documents.
Highlights of Council meetings currently posted on the Council’s website should be emailed to those subscribing to the full council list.
The Council Rules and Procedures should include provisions relating to the Open Records Act and the obligations of councilmembers. It is important that councilmembers understand the requirements imposed by the Open Records Act, including those relating to providing email correspondence upon request.
We hope you consider our comments on the proposed changes to Council Rules and Procedures and also postpone the final vote to allow other groups to comment.
Jeannie Hale, President
206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631
Hon. Peter Steinbrueck
Dear Council President Steinbrueck:
Seattle Community Council Federation appreciates the City Council’s commitment
to making and keeping
(1) Amend the City Council rules to ensure
that the bills and resolutions acted upon at the Monday afternoon Council
meeting are those that the public has been given prior access to and an
opportunity to make oral comment on, whether at this meeting or (preferably) at
an earlier committee meeting. A
provision could be adopted making an exception to this prohibition if the
Council declares an emergency. Whereas
(2) Amend the City Council rules to discourage the Council from adopting a bill less than two weeks after it has emerged from a committee. It is not a healthy situation that many bills are being adopted within days of first emerging from committee, and sometimes even when the agenda and the City’s web site have not included complete information on what is proposed. Like the above, this proposal could be adopted with a provision allowing the Council to act more quickly if it has declared an emergency.
(3) Make changes so that the Monday morning briefings meetings do not have the effect of reducing citizen notice and access, and of reducing the role of regular Council committee meetings. The City Council rules currently do not even require an agenda for the Monday morning briefings meetings. While an agenda is currently being offered, it is not made available in as timely a way, or with as wide distribution, as are the agendas for the Council committee meetings. The City Council rules should be amended to restore the pre-1998 requirement for briefings meeting agendas: "meeting agendas and amendments to the same shall be prepared and made available to the public."
(4) If the morning briefings meeting is used as an alternative to committee consideration of bills, the City Council should improve its publicizing of the agenda, provide an opportunity for public comment, and (in the absence of declaring an emergency) commit not to adopt bills or resolutions in the afternoon meeting if the Council’s first public discussion of them is at that morning’s briefings meeting. In recent years, important bills such as the annual state legislative agenda, and a resolution on regional economic development, have been adopted after discussion only in the morning briefings meeting, and without being referred to or discussed in any committee.
(5) Any charter amendments that the City Council originates for submission to the electorate should first have been made available in a timely way for the public to scrutinize, with the opportunity for oral public comment before the Council or one of its committees. The four charter amendments that the Council submitted for the November 2002 ballot were unavailable on the City web site or from the City Clerk prior to the Council’s vote to place them on the ballot, and there was no opportunity for oral public comment, or any meaningful notice of what was being proposed.
(6) The minutes of the afternoon City Council meeting should be provided (or a link should be provided) on the City Council ’s web site. Currently, these minutes are available only on the City Clerk’s web page, and they are not on the menu. For access, one needs to know the exact web address. Members of the public find it difficult to know that the minutes are available on the City’s web site, and to locate them.
(7) The City Council should strengthen the
(8) The City should amend the procedure under which the executive branch solicits bids for the City’s adoption of an official newspaper. Currently this process favors selection of the Daily Journal of Commerce, which is not accessible or affordable to most citizens. In contrast, many other local governments are able to select as their official newspaper a widely read and more affordable daily newspaper.
(9) The City Council rules currently require unanimous consent in order to allow an opinion of the City Attorney to be discussed in open session. In other words, even a single councilmember can veto discussing in a public meeting the City Attorney’s advice. This policy is not democratic, and effectively precludes the public’s access to the advice of its elected city attorney. The City Council rules should be amended to restore the pre-1998 provision that a majority of the City Council may vote to allow disclosure of a City Attorney’s opinion..
(10) The City should adopt a policy stating that e-mails are public records. Currently, the City’s e-mail policy states that e-mails are not public records, and requires that they be erased within 90 days. This is contrary to the practice in many other localities as well as in state government, and contrary to the recommended practice of the Washington State Municipal Attorneys Association.
We hope that the above suggestions can be adopted in the coming year, and we look forward to working with you on them. This letter was authorized at our November 21 board meeting.
Stephen Lundgren, President
cc: City Councilmembers
City Attorney Tom Carr