Penalizing council members is unfortunate
This week, the Porterville City Council added some teeth to a long-standing city ordinance prohibiting city council members from interfering with city staff.
No explanation was given why the current council felt it was necessary to impose a penalty for such actions. No examples were given, although at least one council member has said he has been investigated by the council six or seven times. We have also heard stories over the years of a council member trying to exercise their power where they should not.
By law, the only city employee who answers to the city council is the city manager, and it is only the city manager that council members should lobby if they want something particular accomplished. The city manager is the only person the council can fire.
Council members should also go through the city manager’s office if they are seeking information and council members should not show up at staff meetings or meetings held by staff and expect to insert their opinions or influence.
The law should be enough to keep a council member from overstepping his or her boundaries. The citizens elect individuals to represent them in meetings, but not to try to influence city staff and especially not to try to influence decisions in which they may have a personal interest.
So, we feel it is unfortunate to see the city have to impose a penalty to enforce misconduct by council members. It should not have been required, but apparently actions by some on the council, either present or past, has warranted such action.
We remind City Hall and the council any time a penalty is imposed, it must be done in an open session for the public to hear. Council members are not afforded closed-door protections given a city employee, and we argue that even if a city employee makes the complaint, the part of imposing a penalty must be done in public. After all, council members do have bosses — the voters — and they are entitled to know of any charges of misconduct.