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Glendale City Council votes to reduce number of monthly meetings

Glendale City Hall, on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018.
Beginning in July, Glendale City Council will meet three instead of four times a month. Supporters say it will give staff a chance to work on more important work, rather than on meeting mechanics. Skeptics worry it will cut down community members’ interaction with the council.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Glendale City Council members took an unprecedented step to reduce the number of their monthly meetings from four to three recently, citing staff members’ difficulties in keeping pace with the current schedule.

“It’s a fresh look at the organization,” City Manager Yasmin Beers said after the April 30 meeting, where council members voted 4-1 to adopt the new schedule that was bundled with a roster of routine items on the agenda’s consent calendar.

With each meeting requiring significant behind-the-scenes preparation — including council-member briefings — the reduction will give staff members “the ability to get off of the treadmill [that we’re on],” Beers said.

Councilman Vartan Gharpetian was the sole council member to oppose what he described during the meeting as “kind of a dramatic change.”

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He added, “Next thing you know, you go to two meetings a month, and you kind of get disconnected from the city.”

Mayor Ara Najarian called Gharpetian’s statement a “logical fallacy of the slippery slope” during the meeting.

“It’s a balance between doing the people’s business but also letting our staff have an opportunity to catch up,” Najarian said.

In a follow-up interview, Najarian said a two-hour meeting might require 11 staff members to hold three one-to-two hour briefing sessions, adding up to dozens of hours.

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Glendale resident Mike Mohill, who has been a regular public speaker during council meetings for the past 10 years, said he thinks the change will reduce the amount of time community members can express their opinions to their elected officials.

“This will be another way of silencing the City Council’s critics,” Mohill said during a phone interview after the meeting.

Compared to schedules in years past, the new schedule will result in a reduction of three meetings during the upcoming fiscal year, according to City Atty. Mike Garcia. It’s already city protocol to cancel council meetings that fall on the Tuesday after a long holiday weekend.

“I think we have plenty of interaction with the public in situations that are much less formal than a City Council meeting,” Najarian said.

When the schedule was passed, Gharpetian also voiced concern that meetings might balloon in length as a result. Last week’s meeting ran until midnight.

“We’ve got a lot of big items coming, and the more meetings we cancel, the more stuff that gets piled up on us, and … we end up being here until 1 or 2 o’ clock in the morning,” Gharpetian said.

Najarian said he hopes to balance future meetings so that they don’t go after 10 p.m. by spreading out agenda items more evenly across meetings.

While Beers said her “ultimate desire is to run a more effective and efficient organization,” she added that the council can’t control certain factors that lengthen meetings, such as how many members of the public come to speak about a certain topic.

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With all meetings broadcast, “Being on TV and on reruns certainly doesn’t hurt your name recognition as you move into election season. That may be what some [council members] are concerned with,” said Najarian, not mentioning anyone by name.

Council seats held by Gharpetian and Councilwoman Paula Devine will be on the ballot in 2020.

Devine did not speak during the discussion about the item. Gharpetian did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Beers, the decision to propose the change arose from a discussion between herself, Garcia and Najarian, who agreed three meetings a month would suffice — a schedule never before attempted by the city.

It’s customary to discuss the council’s calendar for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, when a new mayor is appointed, Beers said. Najarian was tapped as mayor in early April.

Typically, the council’s schedule is voted on as an action item, but was accidentally included as a consent item, Beers said.

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