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City looks into bringing back groups eliminated by majority vote in 2010

(Jan. 11, 2013) The first tangible effects of November’s counter-coup in City Hall may soon materialize, as the City Council voted this week to schedule a discussion regarding the possible re-instatement of sub-commissions, which were controversially eliminated in 2010 by the then-insurgent council majority.

“I would ask that we set in, for an upcoming work session, the discussion of the committees and commissions,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic, “to discuss the viability of each one and the possibility of reinstating one or all of them.”

Fittingly, the problem Mitrecic was seeking to remedy was one caused by the loss of his 2010 re-election bid to Councilman Brent Ashley. Mitrecic’s ouster allowed Ashley — along with Joe Hall, Margaret Pillas, and Jim Hall — to create a four-member voting block that bucked the previous administrative norms. The oft-called “new majority” developed a relationship of mutual antagonism with Dennis Dare, then city manager, and Mayor Rick Meehan.

In November 2010, the victors’ first act was to dissolve the city’s commission system, whereby separate sub-committees of three council members hear reports from city staff or interested parties and present the information back to the full council for a decision. All reports are now presented in open session, before the entire body.

Despite the removal of the dominant faction in the 2012 election, when Hall and Hall lost and Dare and Mitrecic earned seats on the dais, the remaining members appear to have not changed their stance on the commission issue, despite now being a small minority.

“People don’t hear the discussion when it’s in the commission meetings,” Pillas said. “The function of the commissions was always here. That was never dissolved. It’s just that the viewing audience and taxpayers got to sit in on the meeting.”

When the decision was made in 2010, the rationale for the move was that the three-person commissions were presenting information to the full council that had already been distilled and formulated into a recommended solution. The adoption of commission polices was thus somewhat of a foregone conclusion for the other four members who lacked the information to judge otherwise.

“Four people are sitting here hearing from the minority [about what the whole body should do],” said Pillas.

The counter-argument, however, is that the commissions streamline the process by allowing information to be digested before the full meeting, so that suggestions and ideas are ready by the time a decision is debated in full session.

For instance, Mitrecic said, a report from the Parks and Recreation Department could’ve been heard in commission, so that the department could have come to the full council session and kept it abreast of any potential problems and armed with only the relevant information.

“If we still had the Recreation and Parks Commission, they could’ve passed on the report through the commission … and expressed our concern over the surf beach schedule,” Mitrecic said.

“The staff still has to go to the commission and put their time in whether it’s a three-person council commission or a seven-person council commission,” Pillas replied. “If the time is going to be spent anyway, why not spend it on television in front of the community?”

The rest of council decided to save its breath, however, for a scheduled discussion at a later date, voting unanimously to add it to the next agenda.

“I wasn’t going to debate it tonight – I think that’s what the discussion is for,” Meehan said.

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