Opinion: Stop Listening to Chicken Little

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It’s just my opinion…

Twice this week, hours of meetings have been taken up with people coming to voice their outrage at issues that, while important, are not issues being discussed at the meetings.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, speaker after speaker came to the podium to either support or decry rent control measures. Then on Thursday night, speaker after speaker approached the School Board in opposition to the housing development that the school district was going to build at the former Horace Mann Day Care site.

One problem, neither was happening.

Some of the speakers at both events said they were there because of the flyer they received saying that this was going to happen and to show up at the meeting and give their opinion. So these people, believing that the flyer was giving legitimate information, took time out of their night to wait and speak at a meeting where the subject was not going to be discussed.

In both meetings, oral communications took over two hours because of all the panic created by someone who decided to distribute a flyer. Yes, they were allowed to speak because they have the right to speak at a public meeting. But the meeting body is not allowed to discuss the matter for one simple reason.

It is not on the agenda.

In California, the Brown Act governs public meetings for local legislative bodies, such as city councils and school boards. The Brown Act sets forth rules and requirements to ensure transparency and public access to these meetings. It allows members of the public to attend, participate, and address the elected officials during these meetings.

Under the Brown Act, elected officials must conduct their discussions during public meetings on matters within the local government’s jurisdiction. The law generally prohibits elected officials from discussing or taking action on items not listed on the meeting agenda, with a few exceptions for emergencies.

Scare tactic flyer that was passed out to Burbank residents about an issue that was not to be discussed

Let’s take the example of the flyer that was made about rent control.

“No more Rent Control!”. Fact – there is no rent control presently in Burbank. There are State laws but no local city rules.

Public Comment at Hearing: (818) 238-3335. Fact – There was no hearing. Public comment happens at every meeting where citizens may talk about any City business.

City Manager and City Attorney emails. – Fact – City Manager Justin Hess only carries out the Council’s decisions. He does not make policy. City Attorney Joe McDougall is the Council’s tourney and gives them legal advice. He also does not make policy. (If he could, he would have stopped the Council from wasting money fighting the Pickwick development under SB-35)

So why can’t they just talk about it? Very simple. By posting an agenda 72 hours before a meeting, it gives the public a chance to see what is to be discussed at that meeting. It does not allow a body to suddenly bring up a subject, vote on it, and say too bad that you did not know it in advance to voice your opinion. By knowing what is on the agenda in advance, it gives all the stakeholders a chance to prepare and attend the meeting to share their views.

So no, the Council could not talk about rent control, and the School Board could not discuss housing because neither subject was posted on the agenda in advance of the meeting. Also, neither subject could be considered an emergency.

So stop reading flyers and believe what they say at face value. Take five minutes and check the agenda of the meeting you want to attend to see if that will even be discussed. You can find City Council meeting agendas here and School District agendas here.

How official do they have to be with the agendas? Presently you can check the City Council page and find an agenda that says there will be no meeting this week.

So stop listening to the rumors, believing every flyer you see, and reacting to every NextDoor and FaceBook post you read and take five minutes and check out the agenda first. No one is taking away your right to speak, just don’t be a sheep following the flock without knowing if your voice even matters that evening.

It will save you time, the elected body time, and the staff time.

And when you see that subject on the agenda for that meeting, show up and fight like hell.

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