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OC Council establishes hard schedule for commission system

(March 29, 2013) After a somewhat uncertain two months since their controversial reinstatement, the City Council’s legislative subcommittee and commission system appears to be back on solid ground, as city government has established a formal schedule for their meeting and reporting.

According to City Manager David Recor, the council’s sub-bodies will work on a monthly rotation. At the first regular meeting of the full council each month, the council will review the agendas for that month’s upcoming sub-committee meetings. The sub-committee sessions will then happen the following week, and reports and recommendations will be brought back before the full council at the regular session of the week after that.

“We want to make sure these minutes are reviewed and distributed effectively,” Recor said last week.

For example, the agendas for the April committee and commission meetings will be reviewed at the April 1 council session. The Police Commission will then meet the following Monday, April 8, at 9 a.m. The Tourism Commission will meet April 8 at 1 p.m., and the Recreation and Parks Committee April 9 at 4 p.m. The full council will hear reports from the groups at the April 15 session.

The dissolution of the council’s standing committees was the first action taken by the four-member majority that came to be in 2010 after Councilman Joe Mitrecic lost his 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 bloc that openly bucked the previous administrative norms. The oft-called “new majority” developed a relationship of mutual antagonism with Dennis Dare, then the city manager and now a council member, and Mayor Rick Meehan.

In November 2010, the victors’ first act was to dissolve the council’s commission system, whereby separate sub-committees of three council members heard reports from city staff or interested parties and presented the information back to the full council for any decision necessary.

All reports were to be presented in open session, before the entire body. The so-called new majority, however, said that procedure was not always followed, leaving some members out of the loop.

Despite the removal of the dominant faction in the 2012 polls, in which Hall and Hall lost to Dare and a returning Mitrecic, the commission system has continued to be a symbol of political discontent.

The surviving members of the 2010 majority submit that the commission system reduces transparency by developing policy in ad-hoc legislative groups, some of whom became quasi-autonomous and politically factionalized, rather than before the empowered body.

But proponents of the system’s return argue that the additional input garnered makes for richer legislative action, rather than forcing even exploratory issues before the whole council for a policy debate. At the beginning of February this year, the council voted 5-2 to return to the pre-2010 legislative system.

During recent strategic planning sessions, however, a middle ground seemed to be apparent between both sides over the way information came back up the chain to the full council.

“This is about making a system to ensure the information flows as it should,” Recor said at a recent council session. “As you know, I’m a systems kind of guy.”

However, there was continued discontent this past week, as the council again voted 5-2 to amend the membership of the town’s Pension Trustees’ Board to include just the mayor and council president, after it had been expanded to the whole council in 2010.


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