Opening with the public comment was Tracey Ferguson, Planning Director, reporting about the cares Act money. The City of Portola has an MOU with Plumas County to distribute around $400,000 for “micro-enterprise businesses.” They anticipate releasing the guidelines as of May 1st. They will open up the application from June 1 to July 31. Applicants are accepted throughout all of Plumas County. If you have questions you can contact Tracy at (530) 283-6214.
Regarding City communications, Councilmember Peiler attended a Plumas County Transportation Committee meeting.
Councilmember Morton and Mayor Powers attended the LAFCO meeting. Powers reported that the main discussion in the LAFCO meeting was regarding a former CEO that’s retired and whom they have been paying health insurance for 20 years, which they voted against. Powers was discussing ways of funding, “There are some changes in state law that allow us out of a way of funding, and away from funding through the state. To do that, we have to be members of…she’s going to remember for me,” referring to Councilmember Morton, who replied what sounded like, “this is why I needed wine.”
“Yeah, it’ll come to us in a minute,” Powers responded.
Powers attended the Airport Land Use Commission. He also chaperoned 15 Indian Valley Charter School students to Fort Bragg to teach them about marine habitats.
City manager, Jon Kennedy, reported regarding the city cleanup project. He also reported that FEMA visited regarding damages from the storm.
The next item was to adopt a resolution authorizing payment of claims for March 23, 2023, through April 26, 2023, accounts payable: $324,185.52 payroll: $56,569.67 Total: $380,755.19. Approval of minutes from March 22nd, 2023. Motion approved.
The next item was the appointment of a new council member to fill the vacancy on the Council. They said they were two letters of interest submitted, but only one applicant was within city limits.
Previous city manager Jim Murphy spoke about his résumé and experience. He said “I’m a disaster waiting to happen,” as he elaborated on his previous experience with working for the city. He said that he has served the city for 14 years and has been retired for 12. He has 20 years of local government experience, 10 years of law enforcement, and five years as the chief of police. He also has 10 years of experience as a city manager for three different cities. He has been a resident of Portola for 25 years and has a master's degree in public administration.
After the new appointment of Murphy was approved, he was sworn in by Deputy City Clerk Jason Shaw. Reorganization of the Portola City Council then took place.
The next item was the approval of the state of emergency proclamation presented on April 26th, and then an agenda item was brought up regarding public comments via Zoom.
City manager John Kennedy opened with a discussion about operating the meeting on Zoom saying “Tonight has been pretty uneventful so far, that’s not normally the case it became a little bit clunky to manage both. We don’t have the staff to effectively manage when there is a robust attendance. I personally have always advocated for as many ways as possible for the public to be able to do the meetings. Not everyone can come and join, some people really enjoy doing nothing else but being able to watch the meeting virtually.” He then continued to propose that residents can attend the viewing of the meeting, but not make a public comment.
The two ways the public can make comments are by making them in person, or on the agenda online, typed in advance.
Councilmember Turner commented saying “I think we should go back to in-person only, that’s my opinion. I think doing it virtually makes it too easy for people to sign in as a resident and we don’t get to see who it is actually addressing us.”
Council member Peiler commented, “My opinion would be to allow the virtual to go through. Leah brings up a good point, however, there are residents that can’t make it here, that rely on the virtual meeting. I would have it just as virtual, if you wanted to make a public comment like you said, there are other ways or they can come here in person and make a comment.“
Councilmember Murphy then asked about council members who are traveling, and if they can participate virtually.
Attorney Steve Gross replied that as per the Brown Act, Council members can still participate in meetings via teleconference, under the circumstances that they have to disclose the location on the agenda, provide a copy of the agenda at the remote location, and the agenda has to be posted 72 hours in advance for regular meetings, and 20 hours in advance for special meetings. At each remote location, you have to provide the opportunity for the public to fully participate at that location. The public also has to be able to hear the meeting and provide public comment.
They would need the majority of the council members conducting the meeting within the jurisdiction of the city, and all actions would need to be taken for a normal roll call vote.
Mayor Powers commented about questions, rumors, and how to address concerns, and that public comments can “take up half the meeting.”
Kennedy replied, “I have a feeling I know who you might be talking about, or whom.’’
The discussion was then made about “legitimate comments” and how they can be put on the agenda.
Powers expressed concern about being able to address rumors properly, and gave an example of someone asking about the rumor that they were going to “remove all the pests from the city.”
Gross commented that council members can provide a “brief response” during the meeting, but “that’s a slippery slope, so we kind of encourage you not to jump on that slope.” He also said there’s an option to get enough staff to research the matter. A council member can always say whether they feel like an issue is important enough to cover to be able to agendize it in further meetings. It also does not require a formal vote to be on the agenda.
He also elaborated that he believed it was under councilmember Murphy’s previous leadership that the proper procedures can be followed for public comment and items to be added to the agenda, and as he believed, the mayor and the city manager prepare the agendas for council meetings.
Councilmember Murphy mentioned how some items can be easily addressed by the city manager, and other items need further investigation and to be on the agenda.
Councilmember Peiler asked for clarification on if the public would be able to comment via Zoom, and Kennedy responded that “when we get public comments, some of them are just comments that are flippant, and some of them catch my attention and I follow up.”
He also said that if he followed up on all the public record requests that he would be spending more time on those than on IMD complaints.
Further discussion was then made regarding the clarification of how people can’t make comments via Zoom, but can in person or through email.
Giving a public comment was resident Josh Hart regarding the agenda item.
“When I saw it, I just had to laugh. You know, why would this counsel want to limit public participation when your participation is already relatively low, and it’s not really the role of the council to determine the quality or relevance of comments? Anyone from the public can call in and say anything they want, and you can either respond, or agendize that item, but having that forum is really important to people in Portola.
People have become used to, and become accustomed, to the option of calling in with concerns. Some people are not able to make it to the city council chambers, either because they are disabled or housebound. Not only would you be cutting the voice of those people off by limiting public comments remotely, but you would deprive the rest of the community, as well as the newspaper, from hearing those comments made publicly. In addition, Plumas County continues to provide in-person and remote comments.” He elaborated how the vast majority of local governments in California now offer both in-person and teleconference options. “The question is why is this even on the agenda? How did it get there? And I think this plays into the public‘s perception that the council is not really interested in hearing public opinion, it’s interested in limiting it.”
He elaborated that if the item was approved that it would be a clear attempt to stifle public comment and silence critics of the council. “It just seems really, really, contrary to the spirit of democratic involvement.” He then spoke about getting the public engaged in order to have discussion where rumors can be brought up, and discussed, as opposed to social media being a platform to communicate with the public.
Kennedy then responded that Josh Hart was one of the people who “demanded forcefully that we go to public comment and stop this virtual stuff.”
“I never said that, that’s not true,” Hart replied.
The council then responded, “We’re seeing right now exactly the reason,” and that they “don’t want the interruptions consistently like this.”
There was a public comment in person, of a lady who was previously in the ER the night before, who was diagnosed with bronchitis and pneumonia. She spoke about wanting to protect the public from contagious diseases, and the importance of hybrid meetings for those who can be contagious, as well as the safety of the public. She asked, “What is easier? Is it easier to tell somebody who is up here ranting about something not what you're talking about, and asking them to sit down, to leave, or whatever it is, or is it easier to mute them, kind of like what Mr. Kennedy just did right there with Mr. Josh Hart?” She also brought up the point that the city is already set up for hybrid meetings, and it wouldn’t cost them any additional money to continue running the meetings both online and in person. She said it’s “simply a minor inconvenience for the council, but it really makes the citizens here feel like they are heard. “
Another person gave a comment talking about since 1946 when people just came in public and talked about how she didn’t feel like anyone back then felt unheard back then.
Mayor Powers then commented there should be a “deliberate process, just like the agenda shows, a lot of agendas, by the way, allow a scope of time for each agenda item.” He then gave an example that if the meeting started at six, it could go on until midnight because of people voicing their opinions about different topics. He also then continued to say, “We talked about, okay, last meeting Mr. Hart, and these two people, and this person over here, mentioned these things, we’re going to address them tonight, we’re going to put them on the agenda, so we can actually know what we’re talking about.” He expressed that one comment can open up multiple comments on a subject that they knew nothing about.
At about 1 hour into the meeting, it began being recorded.
Kennedy then commented on his push for “civic engagement” through social media. He said that if they had an additional staff member assigned to handle tasks during the meeting when they have more people in the meeting, “he’s all for it.”
He also said that “Tonight we could’ve not taken any public comment if we wanted to, that’s the law, didn’t violate anything, we could continue that. I think it‘s a mixed message like when do we wanna choose not to,” and then he elaborated on more people showing up when the weather gets better during the summer, and having to deal with public comments both virtually and in person. He said that he “loves all the public comments,” and that “ it’s all entertainment to me.”
Councilmember Turner then made the motion to continue with the audio online but not public comment, and to have a public comment available via email or in person.
She said that she doesn’t want people to be muted And that she is against people being muted when commenting. And until they could get the Audiovisual set up. Councilmember Peiler seconded the motion.
Tracey Ferguson, Plumas County Planning Director, then gave a second briefing to the council about the Plumas County 2021 wildfires' long-term recovery plan process.
You can find all the info at www.plumascounty.us/2964.
The last item was regarding the 2023-2024 budget preparation. Susan Scarlett, Finance Director, reported regarding a budget workshop with the City Council on May 17 at 3 PM, open to the public.
There were no public comments at the time, “thank you, I like that,” Mayor Powers replied about no one commenting. Scarlett said public comments are welcome at the workshop on the 17th, and that “the public are welcome to comment at any time or at the meeting.” The council also reported that the LAFCO funding is going to be under $50,000 for the budget.