One of the most important roles for the mayor and city council is one of governance. The council creates legislation, enacting policies and ordinances to help the city to run more effectively. Under our current leadership, a number of issues have surfaced around ordinances that were either rushed through too quickly, or which contained serious flaws. Poorly constructed ordinances can have serious legal consequences and create mistrust among the community.
Flag ordinance: Rushed through on May 3, 2021, the flawed policy was deemed too complicated and caused much controversy among the community. It was ultimately abandoned and the policy was rescinded Sept. 20, 2021.
Code of ethics and conduct: While this revision was brought forward and intended by Councilmember Burns to reign in inappropriate conduct of council members, somehow language was included in section 2.04 about City Council meetings to allow the mayor as chair to silence people’s speech for any comments he deemed as “personal, impertinent or slanderous.” This ordinance, adopted in 2021, has since been sent to an outside counsel for review and to determine whether this language is unconstitutional.
Urgency ordinance to revoke business licenses: An item brought forward by Mayor Velazquez at a special meeting on Dec. 17, 2020 during the COVID-19 shutdown would have allowed the city to not only fine a business who stayed open, but to punitively revoke their business license. Members of the community, outraged by what many viewed as government overreach, attempted to recall the mayor. The ordinance ultimately failed in a 3-2 vote.
Campaign finance urgency ordinance: Another ordinance approved June 21, 2021 was brought back for revision in summer of 2022 because the earlier version had included no enforcement language. The enforcement language brought forward contained punitive language with not only fines, but criminal penalties and potentially overturning elections if a violation was found. The question was raised about the need for any local campaign ordinance or enforcement, since the state’s Fair Political Practices Committee (FPPC) already has established limits, transparency requirements and an enforcement process for violations. The creation of a local enforcement agency would have been expensive and added to governmental bureaucracy. It would have required hiring an outside agency or attorney to review and attempt to enforce complaints. The city’s outside attorney also indicated during discussion that these types of complaints don’t often go anywhere. After much public outcry against it, the revision to this ordinance was defeated.
We can and must do better when creating new laws for our community. Poorly written or rushed ordinances can raise serious issues, create mistrust of local government, and even result in legal consequences. They also end up wasting time, resources and funding. The mayor and City Council working as a team should do its best to ensure ordinances brought forward are not done to advance an individual member’s bias or personal agenda. It is also important to thoroughly engage and include the community before enacting laws that have far-reaching effects.