After a lengthy debate, Santa Clarita City Council members unanimously OK’d several changes Tuesday night to their norms and procedures that dictate how officials are able to interact with the community.
A council member’s ability to make a video presentation was the biggest point of contention for council members.
“The main issue (in the discussion) is freedom of speech,” said Councilman TimBen Boydston, who felt targeted by his fellow council members’ desire to limit his ability to present a 10-minute video from the dais during City Council meetings.
“The main problem there is that the (City Council) is trying to ban videos entirely, and the problem with that is that the staff and developers are given the right to present, so why not council members?” Boydston asked.
After City Attorney Joe Montes pointed out that any sort of limit on a public presentations by council members should be enforced on both sides of the dais to preempt any potential for a First Amendment violation, a new compromise was reached.
Council members eventually agreed that a 5-minute video may be presented, but the contents would have to be available to the other council members at least 24 hours before the meeting.
However, the discussion initially leaned toward removing the provision altogether. Boydston took umbrage because he was told permission would be needed for him to be able to present his video.
Council members seemed to have a slightly different view of the suggested norms and procedures under consideration.
Councilwoman Laurene Weste said she viewed the norms and procedures as boilerplate guidelines, but she did take issue with the potential for council members to bombard each other with video presentations.
“I thought those were the most benign set of procedures you can have: ‘You should, you should, you should,’” she said, explaining that the resolution essentially called for council members to use “common sense” – a position also taken Councilman Bob Kellar and Councilwoman Marsha McLean.
“If you start conversing each other over video, so then what if (Mayor Frank Ferry) has a 5-minute video, and (McLean) has a 5-minute video? Pretty soon we’re not discussing the facts, we’re putting a video in each other’s face,” Weste said.
There was no precedent for a video presentation or rules therefor, said Ferry, who saw the discussion as another opportunity for everyone to feel each other out on the issues, so to speak.
After a divisive April election, council members are still discovering their common ground and differences, which can help a “family” come together, Ferry said. He likened the council’s dynamic with Boydston to when a new family member comes to visit for the first time during the holidays.
McLean took a cautious tack toward the video presentation, expressing concern that if videos were not used responsibly, there could be a potential for council members to have their statements taken out of their original context.
“I think the main thing is that any member who wishes to bring a video would use their best judgment in order to make their point, but not try and attempt to make anyone else look bad,” McLean said.
The end result, a 5-0 vote, was a reflection of the compromises made in an effort to make everyone comfortable, she said.
While his video presentation proposal was cut in half, Boydston viewed the hour-long debate as progress.
“I’m thrilled with the fact that we have interaction and dialogue and we are examining these things and changing these things,” Boydston said. “Because for the longest period of time, when I was not on the council, things were going by 5-0 vote all the time.”