The Lake Havasu City Council waded into the weeds of how its meeting agendas are formed, and came out with a couple ideas for how to tweak the process to make it clearer and easily accessible for councilmembers and citizens.
The council’s roughly 90 minute discussion mostly focused on how a councilmember can place an item on the agenda and how members of the public can bring up an issue for the council to consider. By the end of the public hearing councilmembers were able to reach a consensus on ways to tweak city code to make the process more clear and potentially more user friendly. City staff will now take that direction and will bring a proposed ordinance incorporating council’s input back at a future meeting for another public hearing that would kick off the process of adding the proposal to city code.
Most of the discussion centered on potential changes to two sections of city code, one labeled “council requests,” which lays out how councilmembers can get an issue placed on a future agenda for discussion, and another section titled “public requests,” which lays out how citizens can request to bring an issue before the council.
As currently written, city code says any member of the council can request an item be researched further or placed on a future agenda by making a motion during the future discussion items portion of a council meeting and receiving a second. When that occurs, the ordinance says the requesting councilmember will work with the city manager to determine the best course of action.
Additionally, the section says a councilmember may submit a written request to the mayor to place an item on an agenda. The section also allows the mayor to place an item on a council agenda.
This portion of the city code was last update in 2019.
Mayor Cal Sheehy and Councilmember David Lane, who were both on the council when the latest changes were adopted, said the changes were meant to make the process easier for councilmembers. Sheehy, who had just started his term as mayor a few months prior to the changes made in 2019, said the mayor used to be in charge of setting the agenda. Sheehy and Lane both said that as councilmembers they both made requests for an agenda item under the previous ordinance that was rejected out-of-hand by the mayor at the time and it was never discussed publically.
“We did this so if a councilmember wants to bring something forward and a second councilmember agrees the mayor can’t even tell you no,” Lane said. “Nobody can tell you no. If you get yourself and somebody else, it is going to be discussed.”
Councilmember Nancy Campbell, whose request spurred the discussion, said her main concern with the current ordinance is that it does not spell out that if a councilmember makes a request and receives a second it would automatically be placed on a future agenda. She said she had concerns about the language about the councilmember working with the city manager to determine how to handle the request. She said she would like to clarify that if there is any disagreement, the councilmember’s wishes supersede the city managers’.
During the discussion, City Attorney Kelly Garry suggested some alternative wording that she thought would help address the concerns:
“Any member of the council may place an item on the agenda for consideration, discussion, or legal action by making a motion and receiving a second, no vote necessary, during the future discussion items portion of the City Council meeting,” Garry suggested.
Councilmembers agreed that they would support that change, which removes the language about the city manager while clarifying that if requested by a councilmember the item will be placed on the agenda. Councilmembers also agreed that they would like to keep the portion of the current code that allows councilmembers to go through the mayor to get an item on the agenda, and the portion that allows the mayor to place an item on the agenda.
The city code also currently lays out how a citizen can request an item be placed on a council agenda. The code says the “interested parties or their authorized representatives” may make the request by submitting a written request to the city clerk or the city council as a whole. It goes on to say that the city manager will research the request to determine if it can be handled administratively or if it requires further action by the council.
City Manager Jess Knudson said the reason the current code is written as it is, is because city staff frequently gets requests from citizens for council action on issues that are typically handled by city staff rather than the council – such as a pot hole in the road, weeds or trash in a neighbor’s yard, or a request for a speed limit or stop sign. He said the current ordinance allows the city manager to address the citizen’s issue administratively, if possible.
“All of those things are operational issues,” Knudson said. “We have residents that contact the city all the time to ask for that stuff to be handled through an agenda item.”
Councilmember Nancy Campbell shared a copy of a form utilized by Balch Springs, Texas that allows members of the public to fill it out in order for an item to be placed on the agenda. The form requires a co-sponsor in the form of the mayor, city manager, or two councilmembers before the form will be processed and placed on an agenda.
Campbell said she would like Havasu to adopt a similar form. She said her goal is to create a paper trail that would ensure that councilmembers could check in on any requests being made by the public.
Councilmembers Lane and Cameron Moses said they believe requiring a form unnecessarily complicates the process for a public request. They said if a citizen has problems getting something on the agenda through city staff, they are always free to reach out to any or all councilmembers to discuss the issue and the councilmember could then work to get the item placed on the agenda.
Garry suggested changing the public requests portion of the section to say that citizens can request an issue be placed on the agenda by submitting a written request to the city clerk, and stipulates that the city clerk will then forward those requests onto the City Council.
She said that will keep councilmembers in the loop about who is requesting what, and would allow them the opportunity to take up the request themselves if they so choose. It would be placed on a council agenda if it is seconded by another councilmember. Garry also said that, if adopted, these changes would allow the request to come in the form of an email or a letter. She said the city could make an official request form, but citizens would not be required to submit their request in that format in order for it to be considered or passed on to council.