Council Lays Out Public Participation Process during COVID-19 Response


When the council met just under two weeks ago using a Zoom format, the meeting was disrupted by a series of vulgar and at times racist comments and commenters, to the point where the city shut down verbal comments.

By the end of the meeting on March 24, the council was down to only taking comments via email and reading them.

That of course led to complaints.  As Lucas Frerichs pointed out in a Facebook message: “We were getting zoom bombed left and right so it was locked since we’re not taking public comment, after it was closed on the last item.”

Closing down verbal comments led to complaints on Facebook where one person pointed out that “this is a reason why a full meeting should not have been attempted. There may be people who don’t get the word about how to submit comments, who may have just given up when they couldn’t join on Zoom.”

Although watching from home later in the evening, scrolling to the bottom of the screen was the email address for people to make a comment.

Councilmember Frerichs pointed out and said that “you’ve submitted numerous public comments this evening and ALL of them have been made (by yourself- earlier in the meeting) or read aloud into the public record.”

He added, “It hasn’t been perfect, but you’ve been participating—all night long.”

Two weeks later, the council will make a second attempt at public participation, with some revised guidelines.

As staff points out, the governor on March 17 issued an Executive Order that allows “the city to hold entirely virtual public meetings in order to comply with the shelter-in-place directive.”  These changes are only effected during times when the city is mandated or recommended to take social distancing measures.

As laid out there are a series of less restrictive rules as well as suspended rules.

Among the less restrictive: council is not required to be physically present, agenda does not require locations to be listed, there is no accessibility requirement, and, “Teleconference locations do not have to allow (or be set up to allow) members of the public to address Council at each teleconference location.”

Among the public participation rules that are less restrictive: “Allow public to observe and address the Council by telephone or some other electronic means. Agenda must explain how the public may observe the meeting and offer public comment.”

One key rule that still applies: “City Council may not take action on, or discuss amongst themselves, any item of business without complying with applicable requirements of the Brown Act.”

For the most part, the biggest concern right now is giving the members of the public the right to participate during public meetings.

Toward that end, “the City Council may adopt reasonable regulations on public comments in order to facilitate the conduct of the city’s business.”

Importantly, especially with regard to the previous meeting, “The City Council may modify limits on public comment if necessary for the orderly conduct of the meeting; such limits must be fairly applied without regard to speakers’ viewpoints.”

These include limitation on the amount of time allocated to public comments, duration of comments, and “the total amount of time any one speaker may address the Council at any meeting.”

Staff points out: “Council may even ask speakers to limit comments to new materials and not repeat what a prior speaker said.”

For this meeting, members of the public may participate in two ways.

First, through written comments by submitting emails to council and staff.  During the last meeting, through a records request, we learned that the council received more than 40 email messages from members of the public.

The second way is new and revised.

Through voicemail: “During the remote City Council meeting, voicemail comments may be submitted via the city’s dedicated telephone line to receive public comments. Staff will play the comments at the appropriate public comment times.”

Finally, council has put into place a fail-safe: “If disruptions occur at a virtual meeting and the disruptive behavior prohibits Council’s ability to conduct business, the Council may choose to remove disruptive participants, call for a ‘virtual clearing of the room,’ or temporarily lock the meeting until order is restored.”

And so, council will attempt for the second time to adapt to COVID-19 and allow for fair and robust participation, without allowing the Zoom bombers to take over.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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11 thoughts on “Council Lays Out Public Participation Process during COVID-19 Response”

  1. Tia Will

    I am not computer adept having only a rudimentary understanding of how to navigate various functions. Despite this limitation, I was able to attend and participate fully in the meeting in question. My comment, submitted by email was duly read out by staff. I want to congratulate the CC and staff for their in real-time and subsequent efforts to conduct an inclusive meeting. Fingers crossed for virtual CC meeting #2.

  2. Ron Oertel

    Here is a copy of one of the emails sent to council (from me), during the last meeting:

    It’s ironic that (during my comments, in which I noted that there would be technical difficulties), the meeting was hacked.  The appropriateness of determining that a sudden switch to emailing comments is also questionable.

    I have heard that others have experienced technical difficulties in connecting to the meeting, as well.

    Council really needs to reconsider the scope of items to be considered, due to communication difficulties (and shortchanged processes) caused by the coronavirus.

    Had the disruption not occurred, I had planned on submitting additional comments regarding the pursuit of a $422,000 fire station kitchen remodel (during this time of extreme fiscal crisis), as well as the lack of adequate review by commissions regarding the use of SB1 roadway funds.

    I wonder if comments are read at the same pace (by staff), as original commenters would have done?  (At times, I’ve “edited my responses” on-the-spot (to focus on the more pertinent points) in order to adhere to the 2-3 minute time allotment.  I wonder how staff would handle that.

    In any case, I’m more concerned about the shortchanged processes (including commission input prior to council meetings) during this crisis.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Sidebar:  was looking for something else on the “net”… realized that this is the 52nd ‘anniversary’ of the death of MLK Jr.  In June, 52nd of RFK… us ‘dinosaurs’ can still remember, in great detail, where we were, who we were around, when we got the news of the death (murders) of JFK, MLK, RFK …[please don’t read ANYTHING into 3 “K’s” … couldn’t be farther from!]

    For those who don’t understand, Google the song “Abraham, Martin, and John”… for those who lived thru the 60’s and those who also learned about the “other ’60’s”, it can be a powerful piece of music… and for some of us, vivid memories…

    Yes, pretty much off topic… my only excuse is that AL, JFK, MLK, RFK were very real, very potent parts of “public process”… Civil War claimed most victims in US than any other ‘virus’, particularly as a %-age… not so sure as to ‘racial violence/lynching deaths’, Vietnam War, etc. Arguably, other ‘viruses’…

    I opine this is a time to view ourselves as ‘community’, and eschew differences/disputes… “that all may be one”… you can all pass this off as ‘early old-timers’…

    1. Alan Miller

      Wow, WM, I don’t know why you brought that up, but glad you did.  As I think I mentioned here before, my mom took me to the memorial march at Stanford, must have been a couple of days after it happened.  I remember the colorful silk suites and pants worn by the black men, and just seeing a sea of legs, being so young; as well, the march was in total silence.  I seem to remember being the only non-black people there, but maybe that was my child perspective.  I mentioned this at my mom’s funeral, that taking me to this may have been the greatest gift she ever gave me.

      1. Bill Marshall

        And, I know I mentioned it before, but a black kid punched me in the solar plexus @ school, the following day… our black vice principal saw the incident, made sure I was all right, then verbally lashed into the other kid about how Rev Dr King would feel about his “striking out”… that’s when I fully understood we are all in “this” (pick your controversy) together… community… we need THAT.  Some call it sharing, some call it caring… some call it humanity…

    2. Bill Marshall

      And yes, Moderator… I know Alan and I are ‘drifting’… or, are we?

      1968 was a pivotal year as to public participation and ‘process’… think about the Demo convention that year in Chicago (remember the riots, and police suppression?)… Humphrey got nominated, and “Tricky Dick” got elected in November…

      There are recent parallels…

      1. Alan Miller


        I know Alan and I are ‘drifting’…

        Speak for yourself.  I don’t drift, I go into an intentional hyperbolic state of elusive, oblong hyper-dysphoria.

  4. Alan Miller

    I don’t really understand the public meeting input, as written.  The council can shut down the meeting if disrupted, but how is anyone going to disrupt it if there is no real-time participation?  The only verbal comment is by voicemail?  Having email comments is no different than in the past, so no comment on that.  Pun intended.  But voicemail only?  I don’t get it.  When are you supposed to make that comment.  Generally, you listen to the opening presentation first.  Often, that presentation leads to the idea of making comments, or you hear something that makes you edit comments you had prepared.  So you listen, and then you call in?  How much time do you get before they close public comment?  What if no one else comments, and yours doesn’t record in time and they drop the gavel?  I don’t get it.  Staff now knows the correct security settings for Zoom, that will cut out all but the most sophisticated hackers; is it so bad if something goes wrong that we have to be so careful that it stifles the ability to comment in real time?  Are we such delicate flowers of puritanical thought that we can’t handle the slight chance of being exposed again to childish pranks, porn & racism and not be psychologically ruined?   Isn’t that the price of freedom?  Am I missing something here?  I read the article twice and this process makes no sense to me.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Well, Alan, makes a bit of sense when some are trying to be all things to all people… aka, “mish-mash”…

      We’ll see, and perhaps learn… I see no malevolent intent… but clumsy?  Probably… think of a creepy-crawler learning to walk… unusual times… to be sure.

      And, if spouse isn’t around, curious about some of the porno bombs (for info only… didn’t see those last time)

      Think Jimmy Buffet… “if we’re not a little bit crazy, we’d all go insane”…

      1. Alan Miller

        “if we’re not a little bit crazy, we’d all go insane”

        I guess that proves a lot of the commenters here are definitely not a little bit crazy.

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