Tue, 01/31/2023 - 4:31pm admin
In defense of the city of Mountain View
Amanda Mendez, Publisher
For better or worse, it is my job to cover local governmental bodies and report back to the people what I find.
Last year at this time, we were publishing our first and only political cartoon about the mayor in Mountain View. Right now, I am writing an opinion praising the current government in the same city for their transparency.
I point out the contrast here because, as strongly as I felt they needed to be lampooned last year, I feel just as strongly now that this administration should be recognized and appreciated. In choosing to stick up for this city government, I assure you, dear reader, that I have thought of every reason not to. I have looked at them with a sharply critical eye and decided that they are in the right.
To put it mildly, the city council meeting on Dec. 13 was eventful.
It has taken multiple news stories, a letter to the editor, and dozens of conversations with the public and elected officials to unpack everything that took place in that six-hour meeting.
And after much reflection, it’s time to share my opinion.
First, let’s talk about the incident that took place immediately after the meeting in which three city volunteers connected to the fire department resigned in response to that meeting’s vote to hire Jason Taber as fire chief.
The big problem here is that we, the public, will never know what really happened in that room. The city’s videographer left at the end of the first open session. An hour-long closed session followed, and the second open session had adjourned. At that point, the meeting was officially over. The city’s official record of the meeting, the minutes, stops with the adjournment.
Reports from people who were there vary. Three people resigned, and a conversation with the aldermen and mayor ensued – all after the meeting had ended. Every version of the story I have heard includes an allegation of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior.
If the interaction had occurred during the meeting, it should have been recorded and/or noted in the minutes. But, it occurred after adjournment, so consider these facts:
-The meeting was over. The board had completed business on the agenda and had adjourned after a long six-hour meeting. It would have been a violation of the Sunshine Law to reopen the meeting to tackle this topic which wasn’t on the agenda.
-Public resignations are not the norm in Mountain View.
-This interaction took place at midnight on a Tuesday.
In short, the administration did what they were supposed to do, and then were surprised with more city business after the meeting adjourned at a very late hour.
In a perfect world, there would be a record of this. But it isn’t a perfect world, and this was not a perfect interaction. By all accounts, it was tense. There were raised voices. Volunteers quit.
The open meetings/open records law must make room in this instance for the human elements that night: high emotions, the late hour, and the discomfort of the confrontation. The administration did not keep a record, but not because they are hiding anything. The meeting was over. It was midnight, and they wanted to get out the door and go home.
In the end, it is not the aldermen’s job to wait to adjourn their meeting so that anybody who wants to quit over their action can do so on the record. Unhappy city volunteers launched a confrontation at midnight on a Tuesday. The city was under no obligation to hear them then and there. They did, and there’s no record of it because the meeting was over, and the videographer was gone.
Here's where I air my one gripe with the city in this situation: the videos of these public meetings are published long after the fact as to be essentially useless, and the videographer never sticks around to record the open sessions that follow closed sessions. The city, or rather you -- the taxpayer -- pays for this service ($100 a meeting), and in 2023 there is no reason for this. These videos should not be routinely edited, and there will be a problem if I find out they are.
Why can’t someone just stream the meetings? This could be accomplished for free with a smart phone.
Finally, I want to address the length of the meetings. In Mountain View, the meetings are extraordinarily long – routinely three or more hours in open session followed by closed sessions of an hour or more.
This is because this administration discusses and makes decisions by consensus in public, and although this takes a considerable amount of time, it shows a commitment to transparency. Although it can be a major pain to follow their multi-hour meetings, we should consider the alternative.
Mountain View continues to operate without a City Administrator, which means a lot of the leg work, research, and discussion involved in decisions for the city takes place in public. And this takes time. We should be grateful the city officials take their decisions seriously.
Would anyone prefer that they illegally move these conversations behind closed doors?
For anyone who still has concerns about the way the city operates, I encourage to continue to watch them closely. I will too.
The members of this administration seem to be committed to transparency. That’s a good thing both when you agree with their decisions and disagree with them. What I see now is a group of people who care deeply about Mountain View.