In this instance, the issue is not simply that there was no explicit opportunity for public input into Leon Churchill’s contract extension — it is that the extension was a foregone conclusion well before the Oct. 18 vote.
Mr. Churchill’s original contract, in force through May 4, 2012, states that if the city chooses not to renew his contract for reasons other than malfeasance, it must provide nine months of advance notice or provide nine months of severance pay, including benefits. Thus, the time to seek public comment and to make the decision regarding renewal of his contract was prior to Aug. 4, 2011. In fact, the minutes of the closed session City Council meeting on Aug. 2 identify Mr. Churchill’s performance as an agenda item, but I have been unable to find any prior attempt to solicit the public’s input.
It seems reasonable to assume that any public input made after this date, and certainly after the Sept. 6 meeting when the City Council voted to draw up a new contract, would have been ignored. Given this background, how are we to interpret the assurance provided by Mayor Brent Ives, as reported in the Press, that the council would debate and vote on the contract extension in the near future at a regular meeting that includes public comment?
Not only did this not happen, it would have been pointless.
The problem here is deeper than misleading the public. The failure to seek timely public input is a severe shortcoming in the overall management of our city. Several members of this community, including myself, have severe reservations regarding Mr. Churchill’s integrity and performance. These reservations have not all been communicated to the council, and my personal experience has been that written communications to the council can go unread.
While Mr. Churchill is entitled to have his performance evaluated and discussed in the privacy of a closed session, the residents of Tracy should also be entitled to provide public input into this process free of a five-minute time constraint (as is instituted by rules governing public comments during council meetings).
By failing to provide the community an explicit opportunity to voice their concerns, the City Council chooses to govern in ignorance.
Beyond this specific example, the council has repeatedly demonstrated a tendency to avoid controversial discussion, leaning on the Brown Act’s prohibition of discussion of items not on the agenda. This is directly contrary to the spirit of the Brown Act, which exists to foster open government.
The preamble to the Brown Act reads: “The people do not yield their sovereignty to the bodies that serve them. The people insist on remaining informed to retain control over the legislative bodies they have created.”
Under city rules, in the absence of sponsorship by a council member, there is no mechanism by which the public can place an item on the agenda for discussion. In the course of attending numerous City Council meetings, I have time and again observed frustrated attempts by citizens to place their concerns on the agenda. A more responsible council would act to correct this situation.
• Paul Miles has been a resident of Tracy for 19 years.