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"City Council Departs from Custom and Transparency" From Imperial Beach Council Member Ed Spriggs

Mar 14, 2019 02:25PM ● By Paul Spear

City Council Departs from Custom and Transparency


At last Wednesday’s city council meeting, the council voted, for the first time in the 8 years I have been a councilmember, to deny a councilmember’s request to have an item on the consent agenda discussed in an open council meeting. This sets a bad precedent for city government transparency and mutual respect among councilmembers. Neither are good for Imperial Beach.


Briefly, consent items are usually routine matters that do not require full discussion as a regular agenda item, matters such as the minutes of prior meetings, the registry of city expenses, renewal of small contracts, or our required monthly renewal of the council’s emergency declaration on cross-border sewage. Consent items often outnumber regular agenda items and are typically voted on and approved as a block in order to allow more time for the council to consider regular agenda items.


However, there is often a very fine line between whether an item should be on the consent or the regular agenda. The City Council’s normal practice over the last 8 years and two mayors has been to respect the request of any fellow councilmember to “pull” an item from consent onto the regular agenda for discussion, usually at the end of the regular agenda. The procedure for pulling an item from consent following a councilmember request, has been either by unanimous consent or formal vote, and sometimes by just allowing the councilmember to speak to the consent item before a council vote to approve all consent items together.


The Council’s Wednesday night departure from this precedent is bad for Imperial Beach because it undermines government transparency and could have a negative impact on the public’s confidence in their elected officials.  


The item in question was a resolution authorizing the city manager to sign a $240,000 engineering contract that had not been competed. For this reason, I believed the contract should at least be explained to the public, which the city manager was prepared to do because I had alerted him earlier as is my custom when I plan to pull an item from the consent agenda for further discussion.


I should add that I personally do not believe there was anything wrong or fraudulent with this contract because I understand the underlying complex project that this contract supports. My concern was and is that the public deserves to know the basics about such large expenditures; transparency is the key to trusting the city government and its elected leaders.


Beyond the transparency issue, the denial of a council colleague’s routine request to discuss a consent item effectively silences the voice of someone elected represent the people of IB and who, like all other councilmembers, works hard to make sure the public interest is protected. We each bring different experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and expertise to the council, which is why the voters elected each of us in the first place. We are at our best when every councilmember’s viewpoints are heard and respected on matters they are concerned about on the agenda.


But the most important point here is that items on the Council agenda, whether consent or regular, are the public’s business and must be treated as such, including the unfettered ability to discuss them when requested by a councilmember or, for that matter, any member of the public.


Ed Spriggs


City of Imperial Beach

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