OSH Commission Expresses Overwhelming Support for Transparency and Public Participation within Davis’ Commission/Council Meetings

Davis City Hall with an old style bicycle statue out front

By Zohd Khan 

DAVIS —  On Monday Oct. 5, members of Davis’ Open Space and Habitat (OSH) Commission offered their support of a proposal that improves decision making and increases public involvement within all Davis city meetings. 

The proposal and its surrounding details were presented by Matt Williams, Richard McCann and Lorenzo Kristov, who are local Davis residents and members of several Davis commissions.

Primary methods to achieve this proposal included encouraging a “government culture of transparency” and ensuring a stronger bond or relationship between commission members and City Council officials. 

This proposal arose due to the various struggles between Davis committees and City Council to fully comply with the Brown Act, which is meant to grant full public access to all local legislative meetings in California.

Although this issue was not exclusive to the City Council, the presenters stated that City Council has made past mistakes in their legislative processes, thereby subjecting them to criticism. The City Council was specifically scrutinized for holding closed sessions, where there may be reportable actions that the public will never be able to see. 

The idea of allowing public access during a “current motion” or voting session in committees while discussing proposals was also addressed at the meeting. the presenters explained how it is important for the public to be present for such procedures, as this allows people to see if there is a difference in opinion regarding a certain issue.

Following the presentation, members of the OSH provided their thoughts and outlook on the proposal as well as the current atmosphere in their workplace.

The general consensus was that members believed their commission was doing most of the things they needed to do in enabling public access and that minor infractions or mishaps are exceptionally rare. 

Regardless of the current landscape, members reassured the public that any past mistakes will be avoided in the future and that the citizens’ concerns are prioritized in the issues that will be showcased to city council. 

In regards to relations with the city council, the commission acknowledged that arguments and frustration could result from disagreements regarding how to approach problems our community faces. One suggested solution was the implementation of a moderator, who would make sure members do not resort to personal insults and that everyone’s voice could be heard. 

Commission member Carrie Shaw applauded the proposal as “a very good framework for collaboration” and suggested that even though the end goal is to reach a negotiation, there is no harm in reaching that goal in a respectful and collaborative way.

Staff Liaison Tracie Reynolds expressed concern over this proposal’s potential effect on the formality (specifically casualness) of these commission meetings. Reynolds believes that one of the reasons these meetings are so collaborative is because “things aren’t super formal.” She expanded on this point, explaining that things will be less efficient if there is a standardization to the process at which decisions are made. 

Commission member Roberta Millstein emphasized that these changes were not proposed to pressure or intimidate the commission/council members in any way, but rather ensure that the public has an adequate understanding of how officials are working to address their needs. This means that staff are not supposed to feel overwhelmed or anxious and that there should still be flexibility as to how commissions want to run their meetings. 

This proposal was unanimously accepted by the OSH commission, and was addressed by City Council on Tuesday Oct. 6. Their decision will be the beginning of a months-long process to improve decision making in Davis.

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  1. Patrick Huber

    As a member of the Open Space and Habitat Commission participating in this meeting, I do not feel that this article presents an accurate representation of what the Commission voted on. While we voted in support of the spirit of transparency and public participation found in the Williams letter, we did not vote on specifics found within the letter.

    The text of our unanimous resolution reads: “The Open Space and Habitat Commission supports the spirit and intent of A Proposal for Improving City of Davis Decision-Making, particularly regarding Commission collaborations, information disclosure, public engagement, and improved communications and transparency among Commissions, staff liaisons, City staff, and the City Council to more clearly convey Commission recommendations. We recognize that the details still need to be worked out, and as they are, we want to make sure that the decisions do not overburden staff and that they allow some flexibility for Commissions to operate in ways that they find productive, efficient and effective.”

    As a Commission we have neither endorsed nor opposed any of the details found in the letter. Please note: I am writing this comment as an individual, and not as an official position of the Commission.

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