In Closed Session

Friday is a special day of the week.

Have you ever heard anyone say, "Thank God it's Monday?" I thought not.

Fridays are the springboard for three-day weekends and the precursor of weekends in general. For many, it's also payday.

But Friday holds a special place in the heart of politicos, and it has for some time.

That was due to the fact announcements late Friday had a good chance to receive little if any news coverage. Newspapers had already put out their Friday edition, and readership dropped precipitously on Saturday. Unless it was truly huge news, it was too late to make the Friday night television newscasts, and there literally were no national news broadcasts on Saturday.

So the press release goes out Friday afternoon if you're firing someone, or hiring someone when there might be some backlash. Got a controversial program, or an unpopular decision that has to be made? Wait until Friday. Lots of folks are getting ready to have some fun anyway.

Long Beach isn't, and hasn't, been immune to the Friday drill. Some mayors (my friend Mayor Foster comes to mind) used Friday well, and some City Council members have tried it a time or two.

But city staff, and City Manager Pat West in particular, have honed the use of Friday to a surgically sharp tool. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to sneak out of the office early on Friday only to have the departure of, or the arrival of, a department director be released from the city manager's office.

I'll admit, there are some good personnel management reasons to do some of these things on Friday. It's Supervisor 101 that if you need to fire someone or lay them off, you do it on Friday. At least that way everyone else doesn't have to stare at the empty desk all week, and the person let go has the weekend to absorb what happened.

I still don't understand how hiring a new Parks and Rec director, or any other department's director, qualifies as a Friday afternoon-worthy announcement, though.

This policy is out of date, at least if the goal is to limit the amount of press exposure. We aren't the only news outlet in the city that pounces on this type of stuff and rush to get it up on our website, out on Twitter and all the rest. Maybe Pat and the rest just like to watch me scramble; who knows?

But it's not all about me (really). Long Beach's local government has another use for Friday that results, at least occasionally, in some pretty sticky situations.

That's the day when members of the City Council can add items to the following Tuesday's meeting agenda.

Putting something on the supplemental agenda means that city staff has only Monday and part of Tuesday to prepare — if you believe all city employees only work five days a week. If the item's controversial, it's a safe bet opposing council members will complain, "I only first heard about it on Monday."

That's a bit of a red herring, though. It takes signatures of three council members to get on the supplemental agenda. Tell three council members pretty much anything, and it's a safe bet the rest of the council will know within a day. And top city staff usually does what it takes, including working on the weekend.

City Hall watchers will tell you a Friday addition is just a ruse to stop opposition groups from organizing. "Not enough notice!" they cry. Only they usually make that cry from the podium in front of the council, meaning they found out somewhere.

Oh, did I mention that closed sessions can be added on Friday too? For example, on Tuesday this week there was no closed session agendized for Dec. 18. But it's almost certain one will be set by Friday to talk about negotiations to lease Community Hospital and other end-of-the-year stuff.

All of this machination actually is part of an improvement. A decade or two ago, there was no early release of the council agenda — all the city had to follow was the legal 24-hour notice.

The council stepped in, and in the name of open government, mandated the Monday release — eight days before the meeting. But things happen, and sometimes things must be added. Voila. Supplemental agendas on Fridays were created.

So if you care, be sure you have wifi at your Friday evening destination to either check the news or read the agenda. Then you'll know what you're coming back to on Monday.

Happy Friday.

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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