Actually, it’s what happened at the January 24th Tustin Planning Commission meeting that really concerned me. Let’s start with Chairman Jeff Thompson violating the Brown Act during the public comments section of the meeting. This is the part where citizens, far and wide, may come up to the podium and express their view on anything that comes under the purview of the Commission. At the beginning of the public comment section, Chairman Thompson said, “Fill out one of those forms that are at the podium and you can hand that off to Adrian. And, uh, let us know your name and address.” Oops. Did anyone inform Jeff that you don’t have to give your name and address before addressing a public meeting? Even infering that one must do so, as he did, is a big no-no.
In a Voice of OC article last year on this subject, Terry Franke, the Voice’s open government consultant said,
You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward. There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names,” Francke said. “And I believe doing so contravenes both the Brown Act and the First Amendment, under which anonymous speech about public issues is a fundamental right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Given the fact that this city has had problems with certain councilmembers who chose to squelch both the general public and their peers by demanding they sit down and shut up, Jeff should be very careful. This is especially so since the city has chosen to use both the council chambers and the planning commission as battleground for their fight with Bret Fairbanks in Old Town Tustin. Just a word of advice, Jeff, but you may want to watch what you say on the dais.
But, it gets better.
The Commission had just approved the consent calendar. One of the items was the express car wash we had written about earlier. Kal Patel, the complainant, who just happens to own a competing car wash nearby, was in the audience. After approving the consent calendar, Jeff elected to allow Patel to speak. He was unsure, however, just how to proceed under, as he put it, Roberts Rules of Order. Apparently, the city’s mouthpiece wasn’t at the meeting so Community Development Director and aspiring lawyer, Elizabeth Binsack, decided to dispense legal advice:
Through the chair, it might be appropriate for you to re-open public comments and ask Mr. Patel to address the commission.
Yeah, right. Thanks Ms. Binsack, esq. Except that isn’t really the way it works. Oh, yes, Thompson is free to take public comment as he sees fit. I am not aware of any rule against that. But, to what point? The vote has been taken. It would be a bit difficult to have a do-over.
So, Patel gets his 3 minutes and what does he complain about? The vacuums. The sign says they are free which, according to him, is not typical of an express car wash. He then goes on to complain that he doesn’t think these stalls should be taken up by the vacuum stations. Did he not actually read the staff agenda report that discussed this issue? Patel went on but it became obvious that he was singing the same old tune again. What he should have said was, “I don’t really appreciate you allowing another car wash with lower prices and a convenience market where my customers are more likely to go now” Oh, and Jeff? You can probably forget about that campaign contribution from Mr. Patel should you decide to run for city council.
Here is the bottom line. Mr. Patel should have asked to have this item pulled for discussion or asked to speak at the beginning of the meeting to express his concerns. Instead, Thompson pandered to him and allowed him to speak after the fact. Lawyer Binsack merely facilitated that by expressing a legal opinion when she needs to stick to directing her department (and, where was the real lawyer anyway?).
Thompson did do the right thing by directing staff to work on the issue and make sure the business was being conducted legally and within the permits issued by the city. If we had one thing to say, Jeff? Get a (real) lawyer.