In Closed Session

We all know what it's like when you make a major move, right?

Whether it's an office move or a home move, pretty much everything else has to go on the back burner. If everything is going to be moved and put in its proper place in anything resembling an efficient manner, the move is front of mind.

And other things sometimes slide.

Through no fault of their own, at least directly, the City Council hasn't had a real working meeting since mid-July. Yes, I know they met on July 23, and some business actually got done, but the big deal was the fact it was the last meeting in the old council chambers.

There was a meeting of sort on Tuesday, Aug. 6, too, this one in the brand new Bob Foster Civic Chambers (has a ring to it, doesn't it?). There was a first presentation of the Fiscal 2020 budget, and a couple of commission appointments were confirmed.

Actually, the Aug. 6 council meeting was cancelled months ago so everyone could participate in National Night Out, the neighborhood safety event. The budget reveal is considered a special meeting, and the other short meeting was required to get those commissioners to work.

So for all intents and purposes, there's been a stretch from July 16 to next Tuesday, Aug. 13, for a full bore, business only council meeting. And boy, does that Aug. 13 agenda show it.

The 22-page document includes 42 separate agenda items. And that's before council members add any supplemental business by the end of this week.

That sounds pretty overwhelming, doesn't it? Especially considering the time it takes for an even sort-of controversial item to get to a vote.

For something like, say naming a library, we're talking a staff report, public comment, a chance for all nine council members to talk, sometimes more than once, perhaps a city attorney clarification or two and then a vote. Put more than two of those on any given agenda, and we're talking a meeting running until close to midnight.

Fortunately, at least for the sake of parliamentary efficiency, there's something called the consent agenda. This is a place where staff can put items considered to be minor, either in cost or impact, to allow the council to pass them all at once.

The idea is that all the council members will review all of the items on the consent agenda, so they are comfortable approving them without a longer staff report, discussion or debate. These are things that legally require City Council approval, but are essentially slam dunks.

Next Tuesday, more than half of the 42-item agenda is under the consent agenda — items 5 through 31, to be exact. It could take about 90 seconds to approve the whole batch. The volume is because of the time since the last chance to deal with this stuff.

Next week, some of those items include approval of meeting minutes, referrals to the city attorney, routine destruction of records, lease and contract revisions, alcohol license recommendations, etc. There can be some interesting information buried in there, but you have to be a true government wonk to dig it out.

Then there are some more significant items, still under the consent agenda. How about purchase of an E28 Fast Response Landing Craft Boat for $191,156? Not big enough? How about buying an MC-502 Skimmer Boat for more than $600,000?

The price tag isn't the determining factor when deciding what goes on the consent agenda. Otherwise, how could a $2.5 million agreement with the state Department of Public Health for prevention activities show up in the package?

Instead, the determining factor appears to be whether an item is expected to be controversial. But when you're trying to get a lot done, sometimes you push the envelope. For example, Tuesday the council will agree to accept $275,000 for the “Walk and Roll Long Beach” Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative, and add the option to extend the deal with the state for four more years. Can you say bike lanes?

If you are really concerned, there is an option. Any council member can ask for an item to be taken off the consent agenda for further discussion and a separate vote. That does happen, although mostly so someone can point out just how great something is.

Consent agendas are critical to getting things done in a big operation, and I'm all for them. Just one suggestion. Read them before you vote yes.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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