Marty: No dissension on the city council

Columnist Marty Richman

The following is Marty Richman’s column published on today’s Opinion page.

I hope you read the Free Lance story earlier this week online and on today’s front page that analyzed the voting record of the Hollister City Council during 2008.

If you missed it, here are the results in brief. Except for two votes, one of which was advisory, the council voted unanimously more than 120 times.

One dissenting vote concerned support for Prop 98, the government’s right to steal – I mean appropriate – your property for private use. Councilman Pike voted against it and he had that one right. The second issue drawing dissent was whether to bounce Don Kelley from the parks and recreation commission on some flimsy excuse.

I haven’t seen that many unanimous votes since the days of the old Soviet Union – I’m talking about the old Soviet Union when no one dare stop clapping or sit down until “the boss” stopped clapping and sat down.

But that’s only half the story. If you’d attended as many council meetings as I have you’d soon realize that dissenting votes were not the only things in very short supply.

Good questions, criticism or direction of staff work, new ideas and report analyses were at least as scarce as dissenting votes.

A perfect example occurred on December 15, the last regular city council meeting of the year. The council was presented a consent resolution to accept and submit the Hollister Redevelopment Agency annual reports to the State of California before December 31, as required by law. The report closed the end of June, so the city had five and a half months to get it done and read by the city council prior to approving it – but they didn’t make it.

Don’t worry – not actually having the report did not cause them to miss a beat. Using ESP, they accepted it as required by law and approved its submission to the state – sight unseen. For all they knew, the report could have been blank.

That’s called failing to do your duty. A special meeting was in order.

To add insult to injury, not a single council member asked the staff why five and a half months was insufficient time to prepare the report; nor did they extract a commitment from City Manager Clint Quilter to ensure this does not happen again. One can only assume that it’s another case of ignorance and apathy. They don’t know and they don’t care.

Another example of lock-step laziness occurred when the staff rewrote a city ordinance to allow the city council to delegate its legislative subpoena power. There were no restrictions, no qualifications, no nothing – just authority to delegate subpoena power to anyone the council wished.

I read the California Government Code carefully, and it’s clear to me that the Legislature, the city council, does not have the authority to delegate this important responsibility. In fact, the code requires all subpoenas be “signed by the mayor and attested by the city clerk.”

City Attorney Stephanie Atigh disagreed with my interpretation, as is her right, and advised the council that they could delegate that power to whomever they wanted. Since I’m not the subject of any subpoena, I’m not going bother with lawsuit to get a definitive ruling; however, my question is this; how many times a year does the council think the city will be using subpoena power? I’d be surprised it was more than five.

Yet, to keep from doing their primary legislative work and exercising extreme care to protect the rights of the citizens by taking a conservative interpretation, they have chosen to allow themselves to delegate this great power.

Don’t blame me if you get a subpoena from the assistant night janitor. The city council is just too busy to handle their primary mission. They have to find time to approve reports that haven’t even been written.

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