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Political Gumbo: Random Notes From Monday’s City Council Meeting

Published on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 | 2:28 pm
 

Many callers on Monday claimed the City Council should not approve a $600,000 contract for the Shotspotter gunfire detection system because it doesn’t work. The point did not move the council, which voted to approve the item.
Councilmember John Kennedy opposed the contract.

A much more reasoned argument would have been over the surveillance impacts, just as questions arose on helicopter cameras and license plate readers when they came to council last year.

The privacy issue was raised in 2012. According to reports audio sensors in New Bedford, Mass. picked up a conversation that helped provide specific details that enabled police to piece together the details that ended in the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Michael Pina.

Before that the system recorded conversations in a murder case in Oakland in 2007.

How our local police will handle those issues is the real question, not what studies in Chicago or St. Louis indicate.
For every city that said Shotspotter did not work another one said it did, which Lt. Bill Grisafe was able to pivot to when questioned about Charlotte, North Carolina.

Councilmember John Kennedy asked all the right questions and accurately pointed out the same technology was turned down previously. Actually, it came up perhaps even earlier than Kennedy realized, when Bernard Melekian was police chief. It did not gain traction back then and no serious discussions were held on the matter.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton had the right idea when he proposed that it come back in a year, so the council or its Public Safety Committee could study the impacts of the technology.
Either way, there are way too many shootings and guns on the streets right now, and yes, something has to be done.

Is Shotspotter the answer? If it works as advertised, it’s just an additional tool that could help police respond faster. If it goes too far, there is an issue.

But simply saying it doesn’t work is not enough.

As an aside, several callers on matters not on the agenda are still wondering why councilmembers don’t answer their questions.
State law prohibits deliberation and in depth discussion on matters that are not on the agenda. It has nothing to do with city policy. Cussing and haranguing the council isn’t going to get questions answered during the meeting.

Council cannot legally engage callers or go into depth or deliberations on such issues as the shooting of Anthony McClain, church property, or Native Americans who previously owned the land in Pasadena unless it’s on the agenda. Even then, the discussion must remain “narrow.”

If the council could change the agenda on a whim, the public could easily be locked out of participation and would be without representation week-to-week on local political matters because local residents would have no way of knowing what matters were coming up for deliberations.

Also, you can’t yield your time. Yielding your time means the next speaker gets the remainder of your time. It does not work that way. Everybody gets three minutes, and yes, if there is an abundance of speaker cards on the matter, Mayor Victor Gordo can legally reduce the time each speaker receives to a lesser, but uniform time.

In 2018, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld a court decision that a transit board’s restriction of public comment to three minutes, per person, per agenda item, did not violate the state’s open meeting law or the First Amendment’s right to free speech. The court also held that the same board acted properly when it allowed staff to exceed the three-minute time limit imposed on the public.

The appellate court also ruled speech at government meetings is not unlimited. The City Council can limit speech at meetings based on time and content — and they can require a speaker to address only the current topic on the agenda.
There you have it. I don’t make the rules. I just report them.

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