Berkeley City Council’s 8-week recess raises concerns

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Chris Cox/File

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Berkeley City Council’s summer recess, which like those of many East Bay cities lasts about eight weeks from mid-July to mid-September, has prompted some community concerns that it at times has rushed or delayed the council’s decision-making process.

Over the past five years the city has convened for regular meetings, typically held twice a month on Tuesday evenings, 27 times per year, according to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. In addition to its summer recess, Berkeley City Council takes about a month-long break in the winter, and another recess for three weeks in April.

Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he has proposed increasing the number of regular monthly meetings from two to three, adding that not only is the summer recess excessive, but in general, there are not enough meetings.

“If the City Council was willing to have more meetings, they can deal with a lot of the issues that keep on getting delayed, delayed, delayed,” Worthington said.

According to Worthington, the breaks and meeting dates are initially proposed by the mayor and the city clerk, then voted on by City Council. Worthington added that in the past, suggestions for more meetings have been rejected.

Mayor Tom Bates, however, said that the current number of meetings is sufficient, and is supplemented with advanced planning and special meetings, which can be called by the mayor or by the consensus of five City Council members.

During the 2016 summer break, four special meetings were called to address the issue of increasing minimum wage, despite council’s approval of two competing ballot measures for the November election. The first two meetings were unproductive, after one failed to reach the quorum of five Council members, and another stalled because the proposal language was incorrect. City Council passed a minimum wage ordinance at their last summer special meeting.

State law requires special meetings to be publicly announced 24 hours prior to the meeting time, but they are not required to be held Tuesday evenings.

“In the fourteen years I’ve been here, (a meeting called close to the deadline) almost never happens,” Bates said. He mentioned that special meetings have already been scheduled to occur in October and November.

With the combination of regular and special meetings, Bates said that city issues are being addressed adequately.

Worthington agreed that special meetings should be called with more advance notice so the public can be ready to attend and discuss topics.

“If you’re getting so many emails about it, if you know so many people are showing up, it’s respectful to the public to have a special night about the subject,” Worthington said.

Berkeley City Council is not the only city trying to balance council recesses with resolving resident issues. Many other cities in the Bay Area also take some form of a break during the summer.

In Hayward, council members take August off to allow staff members to catch up on work, according to Hayward City Councilmember Francisco Zermeño. He added that because August is one of the warmest months, there are often fewer issues for council to review.

For El Cerrito City Council, there is no hiatus at all, and the body continues to meet through July, August and September. Meetings during this period, however, are only once a month, said El Cerrito City Councilmember Mark Friedman.

Berkeley residents hoping to engage in city issues will have to wait just a bit longer — until next Tuesday at 7 p.m. — when City Council will discuss police accountability reform and a property owner-sponsored ballot measure regarding a business licenses taxes increase.

Alex Fang covers city government. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @alexfang_DC.