Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 10, 2017


Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Here’s how City Council meetings work for those that don’t watch very often or don’t know.  There are items on the agenda.  If an item you want to speak about is on the agenda, you speak during the public comment during that time.  There’s a separate agenda item for public comment on non-agendized items.  There’s a time at the beginning of the meeting and a time at the end of the meeting.  The time at the beginning of the meeting is fixed and if there are more commenters than time, those commenters are asked to wait until the end of the agenda.  The rationale behind that is that the City Council has a lot of work to get through and if 30 people came to speak about items not on the agenda that would be 1.5 hours of unrelated testimony that they’d have to sit through before getting to the work of the City.

So that’s what it is in a nutshell.   I went through this because on Tuesday night there was an agenda item on the FAAS issue scheduled for the closed session of the agenda.  The appropriate time for FAAS supporters to speak would have been before the City Council went into closed session and, in fact, a few speakers did get the opportunity to speak.  The City Council then went into closed session, deliberated and gave direction, and then reported out that the action that they had taken.  That action was for the two sides to have a meeting to talk terms.

Apparently somewhere in that mix Trish Spencer had promised FAAS supporters who didn’t show up in time to speak before during the closed session agenda item that they could speak at during public comment non-agenda.  Which was a unilateral decision that she made in violation of the rules of order.  It did not go over well with the #alamtg watchers and in general it was not a good look for Trish Spencer or for FAAS supporters shouting in the audience:

I think, for the large part, based on the communication that has been largely in sync with the City, that the leadership of FAAS is really trying to work with the City and not add to the drama.  However, I wonder if now it’s a bit of the genie being out of the bottle and FAAS’s leadership having unwittingly unleashed a tide of angry folks who already were angry at the City and using this particular topic to bash the City and City Council (minus Trish Spencer) over the head with.

Rather than directing their anger at the City Council members like Frank Matarrese, Malia Vella, Jim Oddie, and Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft on this issue of not being able to speak after the agenda item has already concluded, FAAS supporters should be directing their anger at Trish Spencer who forced them to wait for hours on her promise alone that they would be able to speak even as she knew (or maybe didn’t know which is a much bigger problem after more than two years on the job) that their agenda item had long passed and that speaking after a decision had already been made would be pointless from an influencing policy point of view.



  1. Robert’s Rules of Order has evolved over many years to ensure that meetings are run smoothly and–at least more recently–ensure that everyone has a fair and equal chance to be heard. (That is why public comment at city meetings is usually limited to 2-3 minutes per person.) Breaking those rules reduces the fairness and orderliness of the meeting–and impairs public access to democracy–for everyone.

    FAAS supporters–and most people–do not attend City Council meetings regularly enough to know Robert’s Rules of Order and the City Council’s procedures. They–and all citizens of this community–depend on their mayor to run meetings properly and effectively, and to inform members of the public how meetings are run when “teachable moments” present themselves. (In my experience, these moments come quite frequently–at least once a meeting.) The mayor, who runs meetings, should know better than to promise something inappropriately that she cannot deliver without violating accepted and approved procedures.

    The FAAS organizers also failed, by not asking about and learning the proper meeting rules ahead of time–including the rules on public comment–and passing the correct information on to their troops. The FAAS organizers, ideally, should know as much as anyone on the City Council about what is effective and what is allowed, and tell their people the truth when incorrect and false promises are made in violation of the open comment rules. (Part of being an organizer and an activist is knowing the rules and procedures as well as anyone else in the room.)


    1) If you want to participate in democracy, learn the rules (Robert’s Rules of Order and more) and play by them. All the time. Especially if you are running the meeting.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — March 10, 2017 @ 9:04 am

  2. I realize you never pass up the opportunity to bash Trish Spencer but you really get the Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill Award on this one. Plus, the conclusion you draw from the events is Just Plain Wrong.

    “Apparently somewhere in that mix Trish Spencer had promised FAAS supporters who didn’t show up in time to speak before during the closed session agenda item that they could speak at during public comment non-agenda. Which was a unilateral decision that she made in violation of the rules of order”

    Replace the words “Trish Spencer” in the first sentence with “the mayor”, because this is the appropriate advice for EVERY mayor in the same situation to give to people who don’t show up in time to speak at the appropriate time. If you don’t show up at the right time, you don’t get to speak until the next opportunity for Public Comment, which is scheduled on our agendas Before Council Referrals! Of course they can speak during public comment non-agenda…because Anyone can speak then! Trish Spencer did exactly what she was supposed to do. I don’t see how she “promised” anything that was different than every other council meeting. Every meeting has a printed agenda, indicating the scheduled time for public comment. All you have to do is READ IT, which apparently FAAS speakers did not do?

    Last time I looked, Item 8 still comes before Items 9-A & 9-B. Knowledge of Robert Rules is not required.

    Comment by vigi — March 10, 2017 @ 9:46 am

  3. I wrote my previous comment before reviewing that part of the Council video. OMG you are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO wrong Lauren. It is the Council who is at fault.

    Malia Vella clearly says the FAAS people cannot be allowed to speak, because so many people are waiting to speak on the referrals, which is the item AFTER #8. Vella is clearly trying to bump item 9-B ahead of item 8, and in the process, CENSOR the FAAS people! Wait your turn, Malia Vella!

    The FAAS speakers who waited until the second public comment period waited just as long as the speakers for Item 9-B. During a non-agenda public comment period, no preference is supposed to be given for or against any point of view. And certainly no Class of Speakers should be discriminated against! Speakers who miss their chance to speak on a particular agenda item have never been denied a chance to speak at the next public comment period! It makes sense to ask speakers who try to speak during the FIRST comment period to wait until that item comes up on the Agenda. But a public comment period can never be used to deny a speaker a chance to speak, just because the agenda item has passed. I have done it myself, as have many others on many occasions. We were never denied, no matter how untimely our comments. Why were FAAS speakers denied? Because they wrote what they would speak on, on the speaker’s slip? That is discrimination pure & simple! During non-agenda public comment, you don’t have to put your topic on the speaker slip as a condition of speaking. Even your name is voluntary.

    Malia Vella has never been elected to anything in Alameda before, so it does not surprise me that she is such a greenhorn at this. But Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft is a veteran and she should know better. So should Frank Matarrese. Shame on Marilyn & Frank for following Vella’s lead in what was nothing less than an act of censorship. Shame on City Staff for not recognizing this and pointing it out. At the very least, City Staff should have not let the council’s interest in Item 9 obliterate the rights of the people to speak freely during Item 8.

    The FAAS folks are correct on this one. In their rush to discuss the fanciful hyperpartisan topic of presidential impeachment, our City Council just ran roughshod over the rights of people to speak on what clearly is City business: the animal shelter. It is Vella, Ashcraft, & Matarrese who violated the rules of parliamentary procedure, not the mayor.

    Comment by vigi — March 10, 2017 @ 10:45 am

  4. here we go again,”vigi world”. omg vigi, you are soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. wrong.

    Comment by JohnP.Trump is not my President. — March 10, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

  5. After waiting until nearly midnight, losing several of our elderly speakers who could not hang on any longer, AND losing TV coverage for our testimony due to the late hour, I personally appreciate that Alameda4Impeachment and other supporters of the VERY important Resolution got a chance – finally – to express our thoughts. I DO get the frustration for those who came re FAAS, truly I do, but remember: if we don’t get some changes at the Federal level, I can tell you that animals of all kinds, including wildlife, pets, and humans, are going to be hurting a lot more than they are now. I am not the expert on how things should run at Council mtgs – I leave that to the rest of you – but I DO say that seeing a Trump investigation as less “city business” than FAAS is tragic. They are both important, and we needed our chance to speak too! I am sure that eventually, the FAAS issue will be resolved. The fate of our country, and our democratic institutions, on the other hand, hangs in the balance. Katie Cameron

    Comment by Katie Cameron — March 10, 2017 @ 7:44 pm

  6. FAAS was an agenda item, a closed session agenda item, but an agenda item nonetheless. Section 8, prior to referrals is for non-agenda items. A simple reading of the agenda is informative. You don’t actually *need* to know Robert’s Rules, but you do need to read the agenda. And if you’re the presiding officer, you need to follow the rules or be really clear –with a motion, perhaps — that you are bending them. Here’s the relevant portion of the agenda:

    1 Roll Call – City Council
    2 Public Comment on Closed Session Items – Anyone wishing to address
    the Council on closed session items may speak for 3 minutes per item
    3 Adjournment to Closed Session to consider:
    3-A 2017-3857
    (60 minutes)
    PROPERTY: 1590 Fortmann Way, Alameda, CA 94501
    CITY NEGOTIATOR: Jill Keimach, City Manager
    ORGANIZATIONS REPRESENTED: Friends of the Alameda Animal
    ISSUE UNDER NEGOTIATION: Real Property Negotiations….

    I feel badly for people waiting and waiting to speak on an item that had been discussed in closed session. It would have been better if there had been clear communication from the mayor.

    Comment by Gaylon — March 10, 2017 @ 8:47 pm

    • I don’t think you understand that the intent of public meetings is to let as many people speak on what ever they want to speak on in a semi-organized fashion. Just because something was on the agenda, and not all the speakers made it to the meeting in time for that “slot” to speak: maybe they were delayed in traffic, or couldn’t find a parking space, for example….is no reason to prohibit them from speaking later in the “miscellaneous” category. Like I said, people do it all the time, especially when there are too many speakers for a topic early on the agenda. In fact, a few years ago that second spot on the agenda for Public Comment didn’t even exist–ACT & the Sunshine Band lobbied to add it. Once the agenda item is OVER, it’s Non-Agenda again.
      Besides, the FAAS discussion is ongoing. One closed session doesn’t close the topic. If a speaker wants their comments “on the record”, they need to speak at some point in the council meeting. It will still be in the recorded minutes.

      This whole discussion irritates me because the #alamtg crowd is implying that there is some gnostic skill required to speak at a public meeting–a fascist concept!. There isn’t. Everything you need to know to speak at a meeting should be self-evident on the printed agenda: which is a quasi-legal document. I have been speaking at meetings under different mayors since 1995. I do not see how the mayor bent any rules printed on the agenda. But the council voted to shut down open public comment, to favor their own referrals out of order. Which did happen. And that looks bad to the dispassionate observer.

      Katie Cameron: There is no doubt that a city animal shelter is city business, affecting every citizen, regardless of political party or who the president is. For you to equate the importance of your impeachment project with it, is your own personal conceit. It also shows that you don’t really know your neighbors. I think you would be surprised at the people in Alameda who did vote for Trump. They’re all around you.

      Comment by vigi — March 12, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

      • We have public council meetings because the business of the council needs to be done as openly as possible. It’s not actually so that everyone gets a chance to talk. Part of doing business openly and transparently is following the rules. Council did that, as they should have. The mayor gave bad advice and FAAS didn’t organize as well as they could have. Maybe next time?

        Comment by Gaylon — March 12, 2017 @ 10:06 pm

      • Thanks for taking the time to comment, vigi. I know for a fact that some who now want investigation of Trump were his voters. Certain issues have come to light since the election that alarm people of both parties – Russian connection, business dealings with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (see New Yorker current issue). Let’s just assume we are patriots, all of us, and that a good number of us , Trump voters or otherwise, want to be sure our democratic institutions are maintained, and decisions are made in citizens’ interests, not one man’s. This has less to do with particular policies (though I am alarmed at elimination of EPA, because of my passion for wildlife), it has to do with whose interests Trump is serving. We might do a lot better with Pence, where there is no question on that subject. Anyway, I salute your right to differ with me! Just don’t assume we are all partisans on this matter. Thanks again, fellow American.

        Comment by Katie Cameron — March 13, 2017 @ 7:07 am

    • A city meeting ends when it is adjourned, does it not? It occurred to me last night that the entire premise of the FAAS item being on the agenda of the Regular City Council meeting is incorrect–because it wasn’t. The special closed session meeting is NOT part of the regular city council meeting at all. It happens on the same day, but it has a Separate Agenda, which cannot be said to be part of the agenda of the regular open session meeting. a separate public comment period, and a separate adjournment, Therefore, it is wrong to say that the FAAS item was on the agenda of the regular city council meeting. In fact, the closed session agenda is usually completely unrelated to any agenda item in the following open session meeting.

      I think you are completely wrong about the what the rules are, Gaylon. The rules say that Item 9 follows Item 8, for a reason. The council can rearrange agenda items within an category. like the order of items on the Regular Agenda. Or it can pull an item off the consent calendar for discussion. But I doubt any council can completely shut down the first amendment rights of one group of speakers in favor of another in the Public Comment Non-Agenda part of the meeting. Which is what happened. It might even be legally actionable, depending on what our municipal code says. [White V. Norwalk 900 F.2d 1421], although I doubt anyone with standing would care to do so.

      The mayor did not give bad advice at all. After the Closed Session Meeting was over, FAAS was no longer on any agenda. Any FAAS speakers were directed to the Non-agenda public comment section of the meeting, as they should have been. The Mayor did exactly the RIGHT thing. Look at the tape. In its enthusiasm to get to impeachment, hyper-partisan members of the council shut down the public comment on other topics during Item 8 completely, That is frankly, unconstitutional. Violates the 1st Amendment. What if there were non-FAAS speakers waiting to talk about something not on the agenda? We’ll never know. The mayor gave further GOOD advice when she advised the council that if they want to do something like that in the future, it must be done at the beginning of the meeting. Not shooting from the hip, violating the agenda rules on the fly. And the City Attorney appeared to be clueless as to how to appropriately deal with the situation.

      I recommend you read Robert Sullwold’s blog post “Speaking Objections”; Read the White v Norwalk case. While not entirely analogous, it provides insight as to what kind of speech can properly be excluded from a public city meeting.

      Comment by vigi — March 13, 2017 @ 10:36 am

  7. I haven’t found any yet, except for you and Jack.

    Comment by JohnP.Trump is not my President. — March 12, 2017 @ 5:59 pm

    • If this is the only place you look, you won’t. Would have invited you to the DeploraBall out on Bay Farm Island, but I don’t have your email address. Besides, I didn’t think you would drive that far.

      Comment by vigi — March 13, 2017 @ 10:41 am

  8. Vigi sure has a lotta time on it’s hands to comment so deeply on every, single, Lauren Do post.

    Comment by baby mama — March 13, 2017 @ 11:18 am

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