It’s not very often you get an agenda item about “agenda items,” but on Tuesday, Mono County’s Board of Supervisors took up exactly that, an item discussing the process of agendizing items requested by Board Members, citizens or entities outside of County government.
The item was likely spurred by a comment made by Supervisor Byng Hunt during last week’s Bodie Hills WSA release discussion, which hinted at his frustration with seeing the issue brought up again so soon in the wake of previous, similar items only weeks or months earlier.
“I don’t like the idea of limiting what can be brought forward, but I’m concerned that some things get out there ahead of the public,” Board Chair Hap Hazard, the item’s sponsor, observed. “I was getting nastygrams on my voicemail and very pointed e-mails about this item and it hadn’t even gone through a review yet.”
“The policy we’ve operated under is that if someone comes to us from outside the county and requests an item, we usually refer them to the appropriate department head,” Clerk of the Board Lynda Roberts explained to the Board. “If it’s directed to a specific supervisor, I direct them to the appropriate one. It’s been policy that if a supervisor wants to sponsor an item, they can bring it forward. We don’t just put things on the agenda.”
Oddly enough, little if any of this policy and indeed perhaps several other current procedures are covered in the Board’s “Rules of Procedure” book, which apparently hasn’t been updated, according to County Counsel Marshall Rudolph, since 1978.
“The rules I’ve found don’t really do anything, other than encourage people to be courteous and outline basic rules of order, and so on,” he related.
And people can’t just put themselves on the agenda, Rudolph said. “I have to approve it, [County Administrative Officer] Jim Arkens has to approve it. You have to approve it. This is your agenda.”
A bit vague, however, is the “understanding” that a minority voting member can’t bring an issue back prior to six months after the vote has taken place, but a majority voting member can.
Supervisor Tim Hansen, who sponsored the most recent Bodie Hills WSA item at the behest of the Bridgeport Regional Planning Advisory Committee, suggested there should be more definition in terms of what actually constitutes the agenda process. “There was a lot of e-mail blasts and buzzwords that came out of it, but that’s what it was,” Hansen pointed out. “I thought I was representing my RPAC; I guess democracy’s a bitch.”
Bauer supported Hansen’s bringing forward the RPAC resolution in favor of release of the Bodie Hills WSA, and pushed back against any kind of censorship, perceived or otherwise. “I don’t care if it’s ugly, I’m good with it,” she opined. “We represent the people and if they want us to bring something forward, we owe it to them to do that. I don’t think we should have barriers; that would be artificial.”
“I don’t think Supervisor Hansen had a choice,” Supervisor Larry Johnston commented. “It’s what his RPAC wanted and he was bound to represent them.” Johnston also echoed Supervisor Hunt’s suggestion that the rules should incorporate the present method of how things get on the agenda.
Hazard said his only real issue with Hansen’s item was one of timing. “It was out there for two weeks, but we were on a three-week break. It should have been given a head’s up in board reports at least.” Bauer took his point, adding that most of the Board only gets to see formal agendas roughly six days ahead of meetings.
Rudolph suggested his office add current protocols to the Board’s Rule Book. Roberts further suggested copying all the Board members, in addition to the Board Chair who sits on the agenda review committee, on draft agendas that are at their feet as much as two weeks in advance.