Complaint prompts review of Berkeley City Council’s open governance

In response to a complaint that the Berkeley City Council violated the city’s Open Government Ordinance, a city commission is recommending that the council clarify when it is able to discuss items that are not included in the agenda packet.

Berkeley’s Open Government Ordinance mandates that reports are received two weeks before council meetings to give the public and council members sufficient time to review the materials. Yet, the council accepted a report that was not on the agenda during a City Council meeting earlier this year — an action not in accordance with the ordinance.

A complaint was filed July 14 after city staff announced that they would make an oral report to the council regarding the West Berkeley Project, according to a report from the city’s Open Government Commission to be presented at Tuesday’s council meeting. The complaint alleged that an oral report made to the council about this project that was not on the agenda would have violated the Open Government Ordinance because “the public (would) not have the opportunity to study the report nor comment with any sense of knowledge.”

Council staff responded to the complaint by submitting a written supplemental report instead to the agenda that was reviewed and unanimously accepted by council members at their meeting July 19, according to the commission’s report. City Attorney Zach Cowan also submitted a report to the Open Government Commission, writing that an oral report “would not violate the OGO.”

The commission is now recommending that the City Council record votes to accept supplemental reports not on the agenda packet that is provided before meetings and that it clarifies its ability to consider items not on the agenda if they are in the “the good of the City.”

Although the commission’s recommendations are currently only on the information calendar for Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he plans to move it to the action calendar, which would allow the council to discuss and take action on the report.

“We need to conform to the letter of the law,” Arreguin said. Agreeing with the commission’s findings, Arreguin hoped the council would take action on the recommendations.

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