Tweeting, texting still OK at Council; citizen letters return to meeting packet 1by Jack Mayne Burien citizens will soon be able to see again communications from the public to the City Council, and at least one Councilmember will continue using Twitter and texting during meetings, the Council decided in another of their marathon sessions on Monday night. The Council meeting Monday (July 6) also painstakingly went over proposed rules for the members to follow during their meetings, as it considered changes to its rough document from Consultant Ann McFarlane and from the Burien city staff. As is usual for this Council, many of the changes were lengthily debated as to need, to phraseology and potential impact. Macfarlane is with Jurassic Parliament, a Seattle organization that teaches public officials how to use Robert’s Rules of Order and how to reduce “painfully long meetings” and “to eliminate discord but not dissent?” The B-Town Blog asked the city to make public the cost of the continuing development of meeting guidelines, and City Manager Kamuron Gurol us Tuesday that Macfarlane has an agreement for up to $5,000, and “we have received and paid invoices for about $2,000 so far,” he said, but that does not include billing for Monday (July 6) and “perhaps other billable hours.” “Ann has provided a two-hour training for the Council in parliamentary procedures, and she has been advising the Council and staff on amendments to our Council Meeting Guidelines and associated procedural improvements,” Gurol said. [caption id="attachment_87988" align="alignleft" width="225"]LaurenBerkowitz070615 Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz[/caption] To Tweet or Not Some Councilmembers and others have mentioned – at times critically – the fact that Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz often texts and sends continual Tweets on Twitter during Council meetings. Macfarlane has said that since such social media postings were considered by the Washington state secretary of state’s office to be public documents, there would need to be a way to store and make the communications available as public documents. “Texting and/or publishing to social media by Councilmembers during Council meetings are prohibited,” Macfarlane proposed to the Council. “It is distracting, in that it creates challenges and difficulties for Councilmembers who need to have the right to speak freely in meetings and are less likely to do so if they are being quoted either accurately or not outside the meeting on the spot and, three, there are issues to deal with the public records management of texting social media,” Macfarlane told the Council. “The archivist in April issued guidance for Washington state that these are all public records, whether they are on one’s own device or not and that they all must be maintained stored archival retrievable and not simply dumped, so there are a lot of reasons, I think, why would strongly recommend this rule.” ‘I’m the only one’ Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz immediately jumped on the issue. “So, again, I strongly object to this rule,” she said. “Particularly, in this case, I don’t think its actually viewpoint neutral, even on its face, because I am the only one who Tweets during meetings and I am often the only dissenting voice on this Council so I think it’s pretty silencing. “There has been of a lot of misinformation for my Tweets are completely public and they are connected to my public e-mail so that everything that comes in and out of my Twitter is actually recorded as a public record so that takes care of the public records management issue. “Second of all, the Open Public Meeting Act actually encourages Councilmembers to have – the spirit of the law is to have open debate and have it as available to the public as possible.” Berkowitz said Burien city government “spent a lot of money hiring a consultant to see how we can best keep people engaged and guess what that consultant said? Social media. So, to block social media, even during meetings, is directly hampering the citizen’s right to remain informed. “Also, we have heard comments that it is distracting. I have seen Councilmembers on news sites reading the news up here; I have seen Councilmembers sleeping. Councilmembers, including me, have to leave to use the restroom occasionally. All of these things are those that could easily be considered distractions.” My right to Tweet Unless Tweeting interferes with business getting done, “I actually have a right to Tweet during a Council meeting or any time I want,” said Berkowitz. “I have Tweeted repeatedly during this meeting and I would like to point out that this meeting has gone on uninterrupted, completely.” Berkowitz said the Open Meetings Act gives people the right to know what people are saying and what is being debated. “This idea that we should keep it quiet could easily be applied to the streaming video we have. That could easily keep people – that can make people less likely to say their open views and say their open views, just as Tweeting can.” “This rule just doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think it is supported by the law,” Berkowitz added. Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta said she did not think the proposed revision was right. She said she would support a rule that said texting had to be done so it did not disrupt the meeting. It is important for people to be aware and Twitter is one mechanism. Resident Robert Howell told the Council during public comment time that social media websites should not be used by Councilmembers to communicate with their friends and supporters during an official meeting. “Citizens having opinions can come and speak at the Council meeting or send in correspondence for the record,” Howell said. “All the other uses are exclusionary or distracting to Councilmembers. The meeting is for Councilmembers and they should be communicating face-to-face with each other on each item.” Howell said that Councilmembers who attend other city board meetings should be observers only and at the direction of the full Council. He also wanted written communications restored to the pre-meeting Council packets because an alternative process that would allow public viewing of comments “is still not in place” and coming to the City Hall and asking for copies of the documents “is really not convenient.” He got what he wished for a bit later on. Some restrictions OK Councilmember Gerald Robison said he did support some restrictions so a Councilmember was not so engrossed in texting or Tweeting that he or she was unable to comprehend the actions taken by other members. Robison said he also did not agree with the proposed rule to prohibit the use of social media during meetings, but that possibly some restrictions could be valuable. He disputed Berkowitz’s contention that she was never distracted while Tweeting, noting drivers texting didn’t think they were distracted until they had an accident while texting. He noted the rule was specifically worded to include only Burien Councilmembers and not the public or anyone else. Also, Robison said there could be ways to improve the archives to be more easily searchable “so you can find the place you want easily.” Councilmember Debi Wagner said she “found it interesting” that “people” wanted social media interaction but also wanted to remove citizens’ communications from the Council’s meeting packet. Point of Order Berkowitz immediately called a point of order, saying it called into question her motives, under a rule just passed in the same meeting. McFarlane aided the Mayor in conducting the point of order vote, and Krakowiak decided to let the Council vote on the matter and a role call vote was called. Berkowitz, Tosta and Robison voted that Wagner’s statement did impinge on Berkowitz’s motives; Krakowiak, Edgar and Wagner said it is not and Armstrong abstained. A 3-3 vote means the point of order failed. Then Armstrong supported the proposal to ban Councilmember use of social media and said that in his business meetings if people were texting, on the phone or whatever, “I would not be very happy.” He said if he were speaking and someone was texting, “it would be very disrespectful.” Councilmember Edgar said he supported the ban on texting and Tweeting because it was “another conflict” to keep people from knowing what is going on at a meeting. Krakowiak said she also supported the ban on social media during meetings. Later she said she had texted during meetings because she has children that sometimes needed her assistance. Berkowitz said her job, as a Councilmember, was to represent her constituents and to be in touch with the citizens and that means communicating with them and hearing from them. She said people on her media sites told her live that they were incredulous that “we are even discussing this.” “I think this is very clearly designed to silence me personally as I am the only one who Tweets during meetings,” Berkowitz said. Finally a straw poll by Krakowiak showed a majority wanted “some kind of rule” but not necessarily the one proposed so the matter was held in abeyance. [caption id="attachment_87989" align="alignright" width="225"]DebiWagner070615 Councilmember Debi Wagner[/caption] Public Back in Packet Councilmember Debi Wagner said she wanted to have the public communications restored to the City Council packed. “We were supposed to have had a public process in place where the public could see (the communications) but we don’t have a process in place … I would like them back in the packet,” Wagner said, then made it a motion, seconded by Edgar. Armstrong wanted to know if the staff had a proposal for making the communications available easily to the public and the city manager said “we have not effected” making the communications available online. The voted was 4 to 3. Krakowiak, Armstrong, Wagner and Edgar voted to restore communications to the Council packet with votes against from Tosta, Berkowitz and Robison. Small business hampered Resident John White told the Council he was there to talk about “the difficulties of small business” in Burien. He was critical of the city’s parking requirements for businesses and in the case of a potential business at a former carpet store, “we were told we had to come up with 16 stalls at $7,000 apiece and the alternative would be to take this shared parking agreement which I ran by my attorney because it has to be notarized … and if you are successful in getting someone to share parking, you sign your rights away so if that person takes that parking away because they’ve sold their business, the city can come in and shut you down immediately until you can find more parking or pay the fee. Anyone with any reasonable legal advice probably would be advised not sign this with that clause.” White said the issue was “hard to explain in two minutes,” the public comment time limit at the Council meetings, “but there is some serious parking issues and its barrier for small business and I am asking, please, you guys, investigate and listen to those who are voicing their strong opinions about these barriers with regards to parking.” More guideline wrangling In another of an ongoing series of meeting time dedicated to developing Council meeting guidelines, the members spent over an hour discussing ever more change suggestions of potential meeting changes. Councilmember Berkowitz said she objected to including references from Robert’s Rules concerning “personal remarks,” or “unacceptable remarks,” including “discourteous” or “inflammatory language” or referring to the motives of another Councilmember. The suggested changes, she said, “improperly restrict debate” at a public meeting of a City Council. “There is a value to being able to express one’s opinion,” and it is “not always pretty and it is not always comfortable,” Berkowitz said, and the proposed changes raise “huge Constitutional problems.” She said the Council is already misinterpreting banning personal remarks. “The way it is being used right now is we cannot refer to people and say ‘I agree with Councilmember So and So.’ That is not a personal attack to say that I agree or even disagree with Councilmember So and So. I think that goes to show the arbitrariness of letting the Chair decide how to enforce these six principals.” She said her opinion of the city’s two trespass ordinances is that they “criminalize homelessness and I have been told that is inflammatory … and I would be prohibited from saying the exact reason” why some item should or should not be passed. The change would mean the Mayor would get to decide what can be ruled out and “I think we have seen that many of us disagree at times with what the chair says.” City Attorney Soojin Kim said the Council can make rules that govern what it does and how it does its work, but the Mayor’s decisions are appealable by members. Councilmember Gerald Robison said he favored the rules, but did not know if it was necessary in the Council meeting guidelines because the regulations are already in Robert’s Rules, which it has adopted. In the end, the Council rejected Berkowitz’s objections that incorporated the Robert’s Rule’ prohibitions.]]>