Monday Morning Thoughts: The Council Is Still Meeting Only Remotely – Why?

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Gloria Partida at the last in person meeting in March 2020

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – On the rare occasions when I see Josh Chapman, I remind him that it is like he has not started his term on the council just yet.  After all, he has been attending council meetings remotely since his term started at the beginning of this year and he has never had to sit in a room full of angry people and cast a vote yay or nay.

Don’t get me wrong there are some advantages to the remote city council – I don’t feel compelled to sit in the chambers until midnight and then get a up a few hours later to write an article.  I also haven’t been sick in almost two years which is not bad either.

When I spoke to the mayor and city manager over the summer, they had indicated that maybe in September they would resume in person meetings.  Then Delta hit and that went out the window.  But should it have?

We know how to manage COVID – some refuse of course, but it’s really not rocket science.

First, require for attendance either a vaccine card or a negative COVID test in the last 24 hours.

Second, require everyone to wear masks at all times in the chambers.

Third, have non-families at least six feet apart.

There are positives and negatives for the remote meetings.  I always felt bad for people who had to work early the next day or those with kids who wanted to speak their mind at a council meeting (or also a school board meeting) and have to make the choice between lack of sleep and making a public comment.  With the remote system you can simply call in at your leisure and your comment gets heard by the council.

There is a downside to that as well.  For hot topics we would often have 100 or more comments.  That could be seen as a boon for democracy, but when you listen to all those comments after awhile you realize a lot of them are off talking points – it makes it easy for activist-types to pass around talking points, browbeat people into calling in, and getting their voice heard.

There’s nothing really wrong with that, but that’s not really what public comment is supposed to be about.  A few times that simply forced the council to listen to several hours of public comment and then come back the next week or in two weeks to deliberate and make a decision.

The nice thing is that you often heard from people that you don’t hear five times a meeting, but the bad thing is that it took up a lot of time.

After doing this since March of 2020, listening to the memorable meeting when the council got zoom-bombed and the unforgettable memory of former Mayor Brett Lee deadpanning his response to the wave of profanity and racism, the council actually figured it out and made remote meetings work relatively well.

But still, there is something democratic about forcing the elected officials to actually have to be in a room full of angry constituents and make the tough choices.

At this point it doesn’t make sense to continue holding remote meetings.  We send our children to classrooms to learn.  Haven’t heard too much about huge waves of problems as a result.  Many of us have flown on airplanes across the country now – which is a unique experience, but if they can manage a packed airliner, they can certainly put 50 people into council chambers with proper precautions.

We are asking our teachers, our professors, our frontline responders to work in person, it is time for the council to do the same.

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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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23 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: The Council Is Still Meeting Only Remotely – Why?”

  1. Don Shor

    I can’t think of any reason whatsoever for the council to resume live, in-person meetings. The present system broadens input and allows voices to be heard that could not make the time to attend in-person. I see no particular benefits to “forcing the elected officials to actually have to be in a room full of angry constituents and make the tough choices.” That doesn’t lead to better outcomes. 

    I watched live meetings many times. The same 4 – 5 people would get up and make comments on nearly every topic. On hot topics, we often had a couple of dozen people walking up to the podium and making pre-scripted comments in-person. The only difference being they had to make plans to spend a few hours in the room waiting for their turn, which meant only a certain demographic could manage it typically. That skews older, wealthier, and definitely whiter.

    You really haven’t made any case for returning to the old system here.

      1. Don Shor

        Just as many businesses are not returning to the in-person model, I think the city council should continue their current method. It’s safer for everyone and allows greater participation by the public.
        I’m personally still not going to in-person indoor events with any regularity. I don’t think they should be the only option, for sure. If there’s a desire to have more people in the chambers for some reason (I can’t think why) that can occur. But the present model works better, in my opinion, than the old model.

        1. Don Shor

          What was the 2020-2021 flu season like?
          Flu activity was unusually low throughout the 2020-2021 flu season both in the United States and globally, despite high levels of testing. During September 28, 2020–May 22, 2021 in the United States, 1,675 (0.2%) of 818,939 respiratory specimens tested by U.S. clinical laboratories were positive for an influenza virus. The low level of flu activity during this past season contributed to dramatically fewer flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths compared with previous flu seasons. For comparison, during the last three seasons before the pandemic, the proportion of respiratory specimens testing positive for influenza peaked between 26.2% and 30.3%. In terms of hospitalizations, the cumulative rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations in the 2020-2021 season was the lowest recorded since this type of data collection began in 2005. For pediatric deaths, CDC received one report of a pediatric flu death in a child during the 2020–2021 flu season. Since flu deaths in children became nationally notifiable in 2004, reported flu deaths in children had previously ranged from a low of 37 (during 2011-2012) to a high of 199 (during 2019-2020).

          https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm
          We don’t need to travel, we don’t need in-person meetings, we don’t need big conferences. Go to bars and restaurants and concerts if you like. But for discussing public policy and interacting with our elected officials, there is no reason for in-person meetings and they present health risks.

    1. Alan Miller

      That skews older, wealthier, and definitely whiter.

      Are they definitely whiter, DS?  I demand statistics, and these must be evidence-based and use Science.

        1. Bill Marshall

          And if they tend to “skew” whiter is there a problem with that?

          Only if you’re non-white, and believe you’re being “skewed” as a result…

          They also “skew” more prosperous… a lot of white folks in Appalachia feel they have been “skewed” historically, by rich whites in PA, etc.  Not always race related, despite claims that white = rich, privileged, POC=’excluded’, oppressed.

        2. Ron Oertel

          And if they tend to “skew” whiter is there a problem with that?

          Yes.  How long have you been reading the Vanguard, anyway?  And yet, you still have to ask? I thought we already settled this. 🙂

          But then again, the YIMBYs tend to “skew white”, as well. As do those who support them.

  2. Hiram Jackson

    I understand that the rationale for the school board meeting in person was that if the district planned to have students meet in person for school, then the school board should set an example and run their meetings in person.  At present they have the option to switch to meeting remotely if the situation gets worse.

  3. Bill Marshall

    So you think permanent? (sic)

    I think will be long term is a “hybrid model”… CC, staff, in chamber, with some public, and other public still using remote.  A number of entities have gone that direction as they resumed public.  Each has their niche… it actually was happening somewhat surreptitiously in the past, pre-covid… CC members were getting texts, e-mail from folk, who didn’t have to identify themselves.

    I like the concept of a hybrid model.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Someone made a good point via text, the state has granted an emergency exception to the Brown act to allow meetings to take place remotely, at some point the governor will allow that order to expire which will then revert it back to in person again

  4. Ron Oertel

    The only difference being they had to make plans to spend a few hours in the room waiting for their turn, which meant only a certain demographic could manage it typically. That skews older, wealthier, and definitely whiter.

    Not from what I observed, when a developer encourages/organizes their minions to show up.  Would agree that they’re usually “white”, though.

    I think you could argue that the puppet masters are likely older and wealthier, though.

    And of course, those who are directly on a development team get quite a bit of time, indeed.

    1. Keith Y Echols

      The only difference being they had to make plans to spend a few hours in the room waiting for their turn, which meant only a certain demographic could manage it typically. That skews older, wealthier, and definitely whiter.

       
      I think you could argue that the puppet masters are likely older and wealthier, though.
      And of course, those who are directly on a development team get quite a bit of time, indeed.

      Taking up city Council meeting time?  Nah….come on guys don’t you know how it works?   What do you think golf tournaments, charity events and charitable golf tournaments are really for?

  5. Keith Y Echols

    First remote meetings.  Then some interaction mixed with prerecorded presentations by both the Council and Activists.  Eventually we’ll get to A.I. avatars for both.  I’m reminded of that classroom scene in the movie “Real Genius”.

    1. Bill Marshall

      But still, there is something democratic about forcing the elected officials to actually have to be in a room full of angry constituents and make the tough choices. (DG)

      We’re still angry, you just can’t feel it. (AM)

      Explains a lot about the M.O. of the VG and many of its posters… stir the pot, encourage folks to get angry, express it, and reap the profits therefrom, be it psychic or monetary.

      Alan M’s comment goes to why I support a long-term hybrid model, at least on the public meeting side… much harder to pick up on the total ‘body english’ and nuances ‘virtually’… I always ‘clued’ off from commissioners and CC members when I could see them all, in person, simultaneously… not just the ‘talking head’ currently “on camera”… seeing a member roll their eyes, fidget, yawn, etc. while a ‘colleague’ was speaking, or listening to staff or the public.

      I would not have thrived in my career, without all the clues, from all present in a meeting, trying to resolve matters.  Guess you’d have to have ‘been there’, to understand my point…

      The other half of the ‘hybrid model’ is equally important… being somewhat able to participate, react, in semi-real time, if one has a crying/sleepy infant, are ill, or have limited mobility.

      Hope that someone brings forth a preference, if not mandate, for both the ‘public presence’ and the ‘public remote’ values, and amend the Brown Act accordingly.

  6. Alan Miller

    – it makes it easy for activist-types to pass around talking points, browbeat people into calling in, and getting their voice heard.  There’s nothing really wrong with that,

    There is a HUGE problem with that.  The City went from the extreme that you had to make an investment of much of your evening, to having to make a two-minute phone-call during the day based on nothing but an email of talking points.  The commenters don’t have to know anything about the topic, hear presentations, hear other input, or show up at meeting time.  Commenters can be puppets with no knowledge of the issue beyond what an organization sends them.

    A few times that simply forced the council to listen to several hours of public comment and then come back the next week or in two weeks to deliberate and make a decision.

    That’s why the current Davis comment system s¨cks.  Calls should be in real time.  That minor change would make all the difference by screening out those who won’t even make a commitment to watch at home.  If people can’t make the meeting time, they can email, just as before.

    The nice thing is that you often heard from people that you don’t hear five times a meeting,

    Once again, citizens are encouraged to participate in City government – but don’t get too involved, or you’re shamed for being one of THOSE people.  And I resmemble that remark

    but the bad thing is that it took up a lot of time.

    And having a bunch of two-minute-investment puppet-activists call in for hours doesn’t take a lot of time?  What are you even talking about?

    After doing this since March of 2020, listening to the memorable meeting when the council got zoom-bombed and the unforgettable memory of former Mayor Brett Lee deadpanning his response to the wave of profanity and racism,

    And the Council over-reacted, came up with a bad system, and never fixed it.

    the council actually figured it out and made remote meetings work relatively well.

    OH LORDY LORDY!  No, they haven’t!  The current system is awful.  A couple of time I’ve called in and my audio settings were off, but without real-time input, there is no way to be told or have your comments heard.  So they were lost.  I’ve heard this happen to other people as well.

    The County Supervisor’s meeting work very well.  Calls are real time so you can fix your settings or call back or have interaction if necessary, and persons have to invest the time to be at the meeting so you can’t have a bunch of puppets calling in with no investment in the topic or meeting.

    But still, there is something democratic about forcing the elected officials to actually have to be in a room full of angry constituents and make the tough choices.

    There is something about it, I’m not sure it’s something democratic.  But it is something.

    And forcing elected officials to listen.  Forcing?  Really?

    At this point it doesn’t make sense to continue holding remote meetings.

    Public health, perhaps?  Maybe the Council doesn’t want to be exposed to the same air as the masses for four hours.

    Many of us have flown on airplanes across the country now

    Congratulations.  And how is Omicron spreading around the world?  Airplanes.

    but if they can manage a packed airliner, they can certainly put 50 people into council chambers with proper precautions.

    Are they managing a packed airliner?  Certainly people are doing it, but managing?  Define ‘managing’.  Also, you say ‘they‘ twice, but that is a falsity.  They are two very different ‘theys‘.

    Bottom line:  the Council has to be comfortable with this, as do all participants.  That is unlikely.  As a graph you showed recently shows, transmission is rising steeply again.  With the holidays and Omicron, it is no doubt going to go way up over the next several weeks.  Not a great time to be going back to in-person meetings.  Especially in a town where half the population seems to think that it does something to wear a mask outdoors walking your dog by yourself  😐

    When in-person meetings start, the Council cannot drop all call-ins (some will not be OK being indoors with a large group), nor can they do things the way they are because — can you imagine sitting in Chambers for four hours listening to activist campaign talking points from people who only invested two minutes in the issue and don’t even know what’s really going on?

    The solution is to have input by either in-person comments or live phone call-ins.

    Actually, live-only phone call-ins should begin immediately.

    It’s been two years since the Zoom bombing incident.  There are many ways to deal with that now.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Actually, live-only phone call-ins should begin immediately

      I fully accept, @ ‘public comment time’, both general, & item specific, assuming you are correct about,

      There are many ways to deal with that now.

      My only concern is that some of the ways to ‘deal with that’ can be manipulated by those who have ‘agendas’… but it’s definitely worth a try…  we can always go to a different method, if need be…

      1. Alan Miller

        My only concern is that some of the ways to ‘deal with that’ can be manipulated by those who have ‘agendas’…

        I don’t know if I’d call showing porn and racist symbols in a public meeting ‘an agenda’.  Zoom has added multiple features that allow screening of participants since ‘The Incident’.  The staff effort to screen and manage comments could instead be used to screen those who wish to comment.  Many could be on an ongoing list, with new people added each meeting.  Considering live comments are done by County Supervisors, CCJPA and many other agencies around the state, it is not unique and I’m sure the City staff and council-members can handle it.

        1. Bill Marshall

          I was speaking of editing/exclusion not based on vulgarity or porn, but rather political content… if you can screen/exclude for one, you can screen/exclude the other.  If the person at the ‘controls’ wills it.

          Some feel pro-growth is porn… others feel anti-growth is vulgar.

          That was my point, and remains my concern.  I say yet again, it’s worth a try… but with the caveat, “we’ll see…”

  7. Todd Edelman

    I believe that a hybrid model is good. One advantage to or live in-person is that it makes it possible to amend a comment in content or cancel it if it’s already been said. An advantage of in-person is that it enables one to get support, scheme, flirt or make deals in either unisex toilet with someone who uses the secret egress.

    Yet another advantage of in-person is that it allows one to see who actually rides a bike or is ridden by bike to Chambers.

    I think two minutes is too short, and three minutes is too long. Perhaps what could change in this area is general public comment Make it three minutes, in part because people are usually speaking on a variety of issues which they are very angry about.

    What would be really cool is if on a particular agenda item people are given the opportunity to speak before or after the initial Council discussion. There’s so many times when Council – or a Commission – has completely misunderstood something. This can become obvious during their initial discussion, but there’s no way to respond…

    1. Bill Marshall

      I believe that a hybrid model is good.

      On this (the above) we agree…

      There’s so many times when Council – or a Commission – has completely misunderstood something. This can become obvious during their initial discussion, but there’s no way to respond…

      Bolded part, YES!  As to the second sentence,:

      Sort of…  partially true, partially false… from experience, that is true from staff presentation/comment, and public comment… but in my experience, it only takes one Commissioner, or CC member to pause their discussion, and ask clarifying questions from either a staff, or public, commenter… completely within their purview… have seen that both ways over the course of many years… often they do, often they don’t…  but the same applies to both staff and public…

      That’s reality.

       

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