Adelanto City Council Wants Public Comment After It Votes Instead Of Before

An increasingly thin-skinned Adelanto City Council as early as Monday of next week will alter the rules it has in place with regard to conducting its meetings, including reducing the time members of the public are allotted to address the council from three minutes to two, preventing the public from addressing the council on new items it takes up before it votes on them, restricting the public from addressing any issues the council deems to be beyond its purview and ending the meetings at 10 pm.
In November, the city’s voters made a clean sweep at City Hall, voting out of office incumbent former Mayor Rich Kerr and incumbent former Councilman John Woodard. Former Councilman Charlie Glasper chose not to seek reelection. Elected anew were Mayor Gabriel Reyes, Councilman Gerardo Hernandez and Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans. While many residents believed the personality change on the council, which broke up the ruling coalition that formerly consisted of Kerr, Woodard and Councilwoman Joy Jeannette, presaged a dynamic shift in the city’s direction, the council has not moved far off the course that was set when Kerr was in charge.
The primary focus of the Kerr regime had been to put Adelanto at the forefront of California’s epochal cultural shift relating to the acceptance of marijuana as a legitimate intoxicant on the order of alcohol. For generations, marijuana had been a controlled substance, and was considered an illegal narcotic. Mere possession of the drug could result in a prison sentence. Harsher penalties were meted out for smoking it, using a vehicle under its influence, cultivating it, transporting it, possessing it in quantities over a half-ounce or ounce, possessing it in multiple packages as if it were for sale, possessing it for sale, or selling it. Even though the state’s residents okayed its use for medical purposes in a statewide initiative in 1996, the vast majority of local jurisdictions, including Adelanto, refused to permit its sale for medical purposes within their areas of authority. Under the city council led by Kerr, however, the city in 2015 moved first to allow the drug to be grown as medicine in massive quantities in indoor nurseries within its industrial park. In 2016, Kerr and his allies on the council, astutely taking the pulse of the public sentiment throughout the state as a vote on that year’s Proposition 64 approached, moved to open the city up to retail sales of medical marijuana that in turn set the table for retail sales of the drug for recreational purposes when the state’s voters passed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Kerr’s vision, shared by Woodard as well as then-Councilman Jermaine Wright and to a lesser extent Councilman Glasper, was that Adelanto could get in on the ground floor of the California Cannabis Revolution, become the de facto Marijuana Capital of California, and have the city, which was under severe financial challenge to the point it was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2013, reap the benefits of the taxes that would be imposed on cannabis sales.
The single-minded devotion with which Kerr, Woodard and Wright pursued the marijuana riches dream alarmed many, including not only those who were unwilling to or slow to come to terms with the new social reality that using marijuana as an intoxicant was acceptable, but others who were willing to flex with the new age of tolerance but nevertheless perceived that the troika were exploiting the situation to line their own pockets and tolerate a graft-encrusted protocol for granting marijuana or cannabis-related business licenses, while bypassing the sensible application of regulations that should have been imposed on an industry that was now trafficking in a dangerous commodity. Indeed, Wright in November 2017 was arrested by the FBI and charged with accepting a bribe to assist an undercover FBI agent posing as a cannabis distribution business applicant get around city regulations. In the atmosphere that prevailed a year thereafter, Kerr and Woodard were chased from office.
Upon Reyes, Hernandez and Evans coming into office, there was an expectation they would put the brakes on the light speed momentum the Kerr regime had engendered toward the marijuanification of Adelanto. That expectation was not met, however, and the new council appears purposed to see that Adelanto fulfills much if not all of the vision that Kerr had for it. This has led to some outspoken criticism of the council. Neither has the council dispensed with Jessie Flores, who as the city’s contract economic development director under Kerr facilitated the cannabis-related business recruitment drive that was at one with Kerr’s vision and whom Kerr ultimately rewarded with an appointment as city manager, despite virtually no actual governmental managerial experience and a complete dearth of educational credentials relating to municipal management. The council defied widespread expectations that Flores would be given his walking papers almost immediately upon the new council taking its place on the dais. Flores’ removal has not occurred, and Flores remains in place.
In what many consider to be a faux pas, Flores earlier this spring abrogated the city’s arrangement with Geo Group Inc. to operate the Adelanto Detention Facility. While some have  hailed the closure of the facility, which has come under attack by activists for inhumane treatment of its inmates, as one that is overdue, others have been sharply critical of Flores for taking that unilateral action without public input and debate on the move.
Additionally, contentiousness over a host of issues in the city has escalated in recent months, often manifesting during city council meetings.
In an effort to quell what some consider to be the disruption of public proceedings and what others consider to be the natural manifestation of healthy debate and discussion inherent in the democratic process, City Attorney Victor Ponto and Assistant City Attorney Michael Campion, in compliance with the council majority’s request, drew up a resolution that if passed by the council will amend and revise the city’s ordinance pertaining to “conduct and order of city council meetings.”
Though the changes are controversial and likely to garner the type of resident protest and dissatisfaction the council is hoping to sidestep, Ponto and Campion insisted in a staff report that “The proposed resolution is consistent with the laws of the State of California and both United States and California Constitutions. The implementations of these changes to the regular conduct and order of city council meetings will minimize disruptions and allow the efficient and orderly disposition of matters essential to the operation of the city while still permitting robust observance of the community’s rights to petition the city and its officials and to participate in the governance of their city.”
According to Campion, the city council, out of concern for the recent disruption of several city meetings, tasked him and Ponto to “revise the rules of conduct and decorum applicable to council meetings.” The upshot, Campion said, is he and Ponto propose the recodification of the city’s meeting rules to reorder city council agendas so that the “general period of public comment follow[s] the consideration of new business; [there is a] limitation of public comments to two minutes rather than three; [speakers be subjected to] expressly limiting public comment to matters within the city’s jurisdiction; and [the council adopt the practice of] presumptively adjourning meetings at 10 pm, absent a majority vote to continue.”
Under the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, Ponto and Campion say the council is at liberty “to impose reasonable rules on the right to public comment” including, but not limited to, regulations limiting the total amount of time allocated for public testimony on particular issues and for each individual speaker. The reordering of the regular city council agenda to consider a general period of public comment following the consideration of new business does not implicate either the statutory right to public comment enshrined in the Brown Act, nor the state and federal constitutional rights to petition government. Moving the public comment period until after new business is a content-neutral “time, place, and manner” style regulation. It does not limit the right to comment or to petition, it merely changes when that occurs. The rights to public comment do not specify the common practice of affording speakers three minutes to speak. While three minutes appears to be generally accepted as a sufficiently reasonable time period for individual comments, there is no legal requirement that three minutes be given. Indeed, the Brown Act expressly contemplates reasonable regulation on the ‘amount of time allocated … for each individual speaker.’ California decisions also hold that limiting a speaker to less than three minutes does not violate the Brown Act. Limiting public comment to matters within the city’s jurisdiction is contoured to the city council meeting’s status as a limited public forum, limiting comments to matters which the city has jurisdiction over. The Brown Act expressly contemplates this limitation. This topical limitation on the content of speech does not violate the First Amendment. The addition of a rule presumptively adjourning city council meetings at 10 pm, absent a majority vote to continue, is another “time, place, and manner” limitation that is expressly contemplated by the Brown Act.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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