Worried that a new start-up time for City Council meetings will limit public participation, Thousand Oaks Mayor Elois Zeanah said she is exploring the idea of spreading the council session over two consecutive evenings.
At Zeanah’s direction, Tuesday’s council meeting began at 5 p.m., 90 minutes earlier than the traditional 6:30 p.m. start time. The new mayor initiated the change to try and cut down on the number of late-running meetings, which routinely adjourn after midnight.
But Zeanah told the council she had received calls from residents concerned that the new schedule may preclude them from participating in early discussions before the council. As a result, she said she is considering splitting the council meetings into two evening sessions, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The mayor said the first session would be reserved for public hearings, and the second would cover all remaining issues.
“That’s what I’m leaning toward,” said Zeanah, who added that she may bring the issue up for council action next week.
Council members Judy Lazar and Frank Schillo said, however, they would strongly oppose holding two council meetings a week.
“I don’t want to do that,” Lazar said. “I think that’s excessive. I think we should do everything in one evening.”
Lazar said she believes the 5 p.m. meetings will work if the council follows its plan to delay public hearings and controversial items to 7:30 p.m. or later to enable speakers to attend after work.
Schillo agreed, saying it is the mayor’s responsibility to move the meetings along by ensuring that public speakers limit their comments to five minutes or less.
“She should run the meetings expeditiously, and if she can’t do it she shouldn’t be mayor,” he said.
Ironically, the mayor tried to speed up Tuesday’s meeting by attempting to cut off Schillo and Lazar as they were questioning a developer about a requested zone change during a public hearing.
“Geez,” Schillo said in an angry tone, “this is unbelievable.” Schillo, who continued with his questioning, said later, “No mayor that I know of ever cut off a council member from speaking.”
But Zeanah said both Schillo and Lazar were making general comments about the developer’s request and not asking direct questions. She said council members are supposed to hold their comments until after the public hearing has been closed.
“I find it interesting that Mr. Schillo keeps making statements about how we should shorten our meetings, when that’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” Zeanah said. “I think council comments are taking up the majority of our meeting time.”
Despite the earlier 5 p.m. start-up time, Tuesday’s council meeting did not adjourn until 12:20 a.m.