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  • Setting a method for picking council president. This was the topic of great debate last fall, when council members toyed with the idea of picking the new president before four new council members were sworn in.

    The new proposal would set the council president election for the first Monday in December. The current rule says a new president should be selected “no later” than the first council meeting in January.

    Council President Ben Hueso had favored setting the elections every other year and having them in the summer. Hueso said such a move would create “continuity during an election year,” but acknowledged that the plan hasn’t resonated with his fellow council members, who have said newly elected council members should be able to pick their own president. Hueso said he has no problem supporting the proposal on Monday’s agenda.

  • Ending transcription of closed-session personnel matters. In 2004, the city changed its procedures for closed council sessions following a boycott of closed-door meetings by Councilwoman Donna Frye and then-Councilwoman Toni Atkins. As part of the changes, the city started keeping transcripts of the meetings.

    Hueso believes that move “didn’t take into account” that personnel matters discussed behind closed doors shouldn’t be transcribed. “We need to ensure confidentiality to our employees,” he said.

    Although transcripts of closed council sessions are kept secret, Hueso noted that council can vote to release them. Hueso said that could violate employee privacy and expose the city to liability.

    “If we vote to disclose information that’s related to a personnel matter, it could have severe consequences on the city’s legal standing,” he said.

    Frye opposes the measure, noting that six council members can already vote to waive the rule and not have an item transcribed.

    “There may be times when that should be waived,” she said, citing the example of a person interviewing for a job. “But just to have a blanket exemption, I don’t support that. I worked real hard to get a court transcriber in there, and if six members of the council think there shouldn’t be a court transcriber, six members of the council can waive that rule.”

    She said transcription is needed to avoid disputes about what was said during closed session, citing the closed-door meetings where the 2002 plan that led to the underfunding of the pension system were discussed.

    “There was a lot of discussion after the fact where people wanted to know what had happened in closed sessions,” Frye said. “There was no way for me to prove or disprove what had happened because there was almost no record at all except for very disjointed notes taken by the City Attorney’s Office. They didn’t reflect what the conversation had been, so there was no record of what we were told or weren’t told.”

Two other measures, proposed as part of a package by Frye and Councilman Carl DeMaio, are up for discussion but not a vote. They are:

  • Making it easier for council members to place items on the council agenda. Now, if council members want to place an item on the council agenda, they must go through the council president or get the blessing of three other council members. Frye and DeMaio’s proposal would drop that requirement by one, so three council members could agree to place an item on the agenda.

    Frye and DeMaio said this would ensure council members will have their proposals considered by the full council, saying access to the agenda is a “fundamental right” of every council member.

    Opponents believe the move would diminish the power of the council president. Another fear is that council members whose proposals have no chance of passing could hijack council meetings.

    Hueso said the way the issue came to council is an argument against the three-signature rule. The Rules, Open Government and Intergovernmental Relations Committee didn’t vote to send it on to council. But Frye and DeMaio got Councilwomen Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner to agree to put it on the council agenda.

    At Rules Committee, Hueso said, “there were four votes that did not want to see the issue move forward,” so he said it doesn’t look like the majority of council members would support a change.

  • Holding an evening meeting once a month. Frye and DeMaio said this provision is needed to make it easier for members of the public to attend council meetings and voice their opinions.

    Other council members believe it would cost the city too much money, citing past forums with low attendance. Hueso also said yesterday that the proposed change was too inflexible, noting that the council already holds meetings at night and in the community when appropriate.

RANI GUPTA

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