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Guest Column

Enforcing the code at Long Beach City Council meetings ensures public participation

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Before the good and welfare portion of the Jan. 2 City Council meeting, I, in my role as presiding officer, announced that the three-minute limit listed in Section 2-30(e) of the city’s Code would be re-enforced moving forward. 

This, being the first meeting of the New Year, was a perfect time to begin re-establishing the three-minute limitation, which has existed in the code for a very long time. 

As enforcement of the rule gradually fades over the course of time, the City Council is occasionally forced to re-establish it, and my announcement last week was the latest in a long line of attempts to do so. To be clear, no changes to the format outlined in the code were made — they will simply be enforced.

Good and welfare is designed to afford speakers a meaningful opportunity to be heard on issues concerning the city.  Increasingly, however, speakers are choosing to disregard the rule during verbal exchanges, scripted and otherwise, that more closely resemble cross-examinations than substantive dialogues. Sometimes it even devolves into outright bullying.  Routinely, these theatrical performances extend well beyond three minutes, eclipsing into time reserved for other speakers.

Speakers should not be permitted to use good and welfare for political grandstanding. These artificially-prolonged exchanges, usually from the same set of speakers, deter other residents from being heard on the issues that matter to them. A speaker who wants to know when the light pole on their block is scheduled for repair should not be forced to tolerate another speakers’ indifference to the rule, and/or the inappropriate outbursts of others. Nothing demonstrates these outbursts better than the final speaker at last week’s good and welfare session, who wildly berated the acting city manager and council and refused to leave the podium. 

These increasingly frequent episodes have demonstrated to me the need to restore good and welfare to what it is meant to be - a respectful way for the residents of the city to share their ideas and concerns. After all, what kind of dialogue can we have as a community if council meetings are able to turn into an endless war of words without facts?

We cannot let the partisan, disrespectful nature in which Washington currently conducts itself influence how we go about governing our City by the Sea. We must ensure that all ­­— at council meetings and elsewhere — are able to participate in political dialogue in an orderly, respectful way that is free from bullying and name-calling.

To enforce the plain language of a law is not “anti-democratic.” To the contrary, such enforcement is entirely consistent with the principles of democracy. Ensuring meaningful participation by a variety of constituents, on a broad array of concerns, nurtures a robust democracy.

Surely, we cannot pick and choose which sections of the code we enforce because it benefits us politically to do so.

Eramo is president of the Long Beach City Council.