• Mejia Amendments – Continued from Part 1.

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      A screengrab from Alhambra City Council meeting.

      Councilman Mejia is trying to “fix” an unbroken system.

      There are already rules in place that allow the city council and commissions to shorten the allotted time for public speaking on an item-by-item basis if they receive a large number of speaker cards for any one agenda item (see Alhambra Municipal Code 2.04.210). For instance, the Alhambra Planning Commission recently invoked this rule during a public hearing for a large development project where more speaker cards than usual were submitted. Planning Commission President Allan Sanchez made the motion to do so and it was unanimously backed by the rest of the commission. The city council can do the same thing on a case-by-case basis with the consent of a majority of the legislative body. There is no need to institutionalize an across the board decrease in the amount of time allotted to public speakers when there is already a democratic solution in place for extraordinary circumstances.

      Yet, the Mejia Amendments would flip this rule of extraordinary circumstances on its head. Rather than uphold progressive principles of public engagement by only reducing 5 minute public speaking times on rare occasions, Mejia and three other city councilmembers would have the public regularly beg the mayor for extended speaking time that is less than 5 minutes. This is regressive policy that puts the onus on the public to perpetually prove the efficacy of their voice rather than the legislative body to make their case for why limiting public speech and civic engagement from time to time is appropriate. Simply put, the Mejia Amendments make the rules of engagement more politician-friendly to the detriment of public regard and accommodation. That is counterintuitive to civic participation in government and it is anti-democratic.

      The Mejia Amendments assume too much and for all the wrong reasons.

      Councilman Mejia’s rational for limiting public comments before the council, as shortsighted as it is, assumes: 1) that all or most city meetings will be overflowing with residents who want to speak, and 2) that everyone who speaks will do so for a full five minutes. This is just not true, but if it were, would it be so bad?

      Despite the implication by Councilman Mejia, only a smattering of people typically speak at most city meetings and not all use their full 5 minutes. Furthermore, most Alhambra City Council meetings do not last until midnight, and on the rare occasion when one does, it means the public is active and engaged in the governmental process. That is a good thing for democracy. It should be embraced, not constrained.

      The City’s current  5 minute limit on public comments is being unjustly maligned to suit Councilman Mejia’s want of a problem to push an unnecessary and regressive “solution.”

      The Mejia Amendments are a zero-sum proposition.

      Simply put, the Mejia Amendments transfer power from those who already have the least (the ruled) to those who have the most (the rulers). This is unjust.

      As it currently stands, a member of the public are allowed to submit a speaker card at any time before public speaking on an agenda item ends (see Alhambra Municipal Code 2.04.210). This makes sense since public speaking is not officially over until the last speaker finishes and the mayor makes a motion to end public comment on the matter. Councilman Mejia’s Amendment to prevent the public from submitting cards once public comment on an item has begun would greatly curtail the public’s right to speak on any one issue and prevent the civic engagement process from playing out as it is meant to—through discussion, consideration, support and/or rebuttal.

      The Mejia Amendments disregard circumstance and are an attack on the critical thinking process.

      To put it bluntly, not allowing members of the public to submit speaker cards before public comment has ended also is punishment for thinking… and being human. There are many people who attend a city council meeting not intending to speak on a particular topic until it is announced or they hear others speak about it during public comment. Why should those people be denied the opportunity to convey their thoughts on the matter because they were unaware of the item and its implications a minute earlier? Perhaps they needed a moment to collect their thoughts or invoke the courage to speak publically. Maybe they arrived a minute late, because life happens. There could be many reasons, both consequential and/or circumstantial, why one failed to submit a speaker card prior to the commencement of an agenda item they wish to speak on. But whatever the reason, one should not be denied their one and only opportunity to speak publically on a matter before it is voted on by the city council.

      The Mejia Amendments facilitate the undue imposition of authority and chastisement.

      In both the current rules of decorum in Alhambra’s MC and the proposed revisions, a person can be removed from the city council chambers if they continue speaking past their allotted time.  By lowering the public speaking time from 5 to 3 minutes and restricting when a speaker can submit a speaker card, opportunities for the mayor to impose disciplinary action upon the public will increase, as will influencer pressure upon the mayor to crack down when dissent does not suit establishment ends. Likewise, the Mejia Amendments lend themselves to political bullying, threats, and chastisement of members of the public by the legislative body, which could easily be construed as attempts to silence critics and stifle civic engagement. In short, the Mejia Amendments can be too easily abused as a political tool and; therefore, should not be implemented.

      Mejia’s War on Public Opinion

      Are the Mejia Amendments the product of a history of disdain by David Mejia for public criticism of city hall policies? There is evidence to suggest this is the case.

      In 2017, then-mayor, David Mejia, used the Around Alhambra, a monthly Chamber of Commerce newsletter that is sent to every Alhambra resident, to call all those who question or criticize City Hall over the internet, cyberbullies. (read more about it here)

      Over the last year, Councilman Mejia has been apt to butt heads with members of the public who dare criticize long standing City Hall practices and policies, like the doling out of no-bid city contracts, the subsidization of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce, pay-to-play politics, cronyism, and the abuse of HUD/CDBG funds to name a few.

      The Mejia Amendments are an attempt to solve a Mejia problem, or, more broadly, an establishment problem, not a meeting protocol or public discourse problem. Alhambra elites are finally feeling the heat as a result of decades of poor policy, plunder, and crony capitalism. They now feel the need to intervene and stop the political bleeding with restrictive measures, lest the chickens come home to roost.

      Councilman Mejia is a product of the old guard—a political establishment that has effectively utilized its control on power at City Hall over the decades to rebuke without scruples anyone who questions their motives and/or challenges their authority.

      More concerning is the fact that 3 other Councilmembers voted to endorse Mejia’s amendments. They gave little rationale for their support. Perhaps they will elaborate on their vote for the public or reverse course at the second reading of the ordinance on Sept. 9, 2019. Regardless, whichever way they vote, they will surely have to own it for years to come. The limiting of public participation in government is a serious matter that will affect civic engagement in Alhambra for as long as the Mejia Amendments are codified in the City’s municipal code.

      End of article

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