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Visalia City Council to consider limiting re-agendizing items

Visalia City Council to consider limiting re-agendizing items

Future agenda item will ask how often councilmember requests can be brought back for a vote after being denied

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

VISALIA – Is it a waste of time for a city council to consider an item after a majority of council members have already voted to deny the request, or is it simply an exercise in free speech to bring up an item on behalf of citizens still concerned about the issue? 

The Visalia City Council, city attorney and city staff aren’t sure but they are willing to discuss it. 

At its May 7 meeting, the City Council approved a request by Vice Mayor Bob Link to discuss establishing a timeline restricting how often an issue can be brought back before the Council. City Councilmember Steve Nelson quickly spoke out against the item calling it a restriction of his First Amendment right to free speech. 

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“I look at this as restricting a council member from representing the constituents that put them into office,” Nelson said. “If you are unable to bring forward an issue, you are doing a disservice to council members and the people that elected them.”

The idea for restricting how often an item can be brought back before council surfaced on April 16, when Nelson asked the council to reconsider placing the motto “In God We Trust” on a future agenda less than a year after the Council voted down displaying the words in Council Chambers. 

The city council established its policy for councilmembers to place items on future agendas in June 2015. Under the policy, if an item is received by the City Manager prior to noon on the Wednesday of the week preceding the next meeting, the City Manager adds the item to the Consent Calendar where the council can vote whether or not to place it on the next agenda. If the item is approved as part of the Consent Calendar, or is pulled and approved after discussion, it is then placed on the next agenda as a regular item. There is currently no limit on how many times a councilmember can place an item on the consent calendar for consideration on future agendas.

If a timeline were to be set for bringing back items for consideration, Visalia would be the first city council in Tulare County to establish that policy, according to the staff report.

“We have not looked at this yet, but if you put it on a future agenda we will look at the legal ramifications,” said City Attorney Kenneth Richardson.

Link countered that he was exercising his right to bring forward the idea of a timeline at the request of Irene Lampen, a Visalia resident and frequent public commenter, who suggested the idea following the Council’s lengthy discussion of “In God We Trust” at its April 16 meeting. Lampen, the last person to speak during public comment on the issue, called for the Council to make a policy that “special interest” items not be allowed to be brought back after being voted on unless the council members change or if a large group of citizens were to come to the meeting and request it themselves.

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“Last year the four of you made the most astute arguments that you didn’t think government should determine matters of religion and theology,” she said. “Don’t keep coming back to make the same argument.”

Lampen’s comments seemed prophetic as Nelson concluded his vote with the following statement, “If a citizen comes forward with a request, I will always honor that request and always bring it forward.”

Councilmembers Phil Cox and Greg Collins said they did not see any harm in discussing a possible timeline for re-agendizing items at a future meeting when staff will be ready to address concerns about legality and procedure. 

“I agree there ought to be a time lapse where it can be brought back in six months or a year,” Cox said. “I wouldn’t support anything longer than a year.”

The council voted 4-1 to place a timeline for re-agendizing items on the agenda for the next council meeting. Nelson cast the lone dissenting vote. 

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