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Ventura City Council Acts to Put Limits on Gadflies

February 11, 1988|JESSE KATZ | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to stave off "frivolous" requests from citizens, the Ventura City Council this week approved a special policy instructing city staff members not to waste time on any matters they deem to lack merit.

"Except as may be required under the law, time should not be spent by city administration responding to frivolous questions or requests from persons who have made ongoing, repeated, frivolous requests or complaints," the order states.

"If such an individual makes a request that city administration deems frivolous or not meriting response or action, no action need or should be taken."

The policy stems from an unusual statement last week in which the City Council directed its staff to ignore the "unending and unproductive requests" of longtime council critic Carroll Dean Williams.

'The Broad Range'

City Atty. Donald S. Greenberg, however, had asked to review the directive after it was approved and subsequently recommended that the language be broadened to include frivolous requests from all citizens.

"I just think it's more appropriate from a legal standpoint to deal with the broad range of persons rather than get involved with specific individuals," Greenberg said.

Williams, a poet and unsuccessful City Council candidate who has spoken his piece at virtually every council meeting since 1977, charged that the policy is harassment.

"They took my name out of it, but it's directed exactly toward me," he said. "But whether it's me or you or John Doe, they can say it's frivolous and no action is needed. I just wonder what they're really trying to do."

Greenberg, however, said the policy is an appropriate way of dealing with citizens who have a long history of making vexing demands on city staff.

"It's perfectly appropriate to have some mechanism so you don't have city staff people running around wasting time because a particular individual doesn't understand things or doesn't read them and wants city staff people to be his personal educators," Greenberg said.

In addition, he said the policy is merely an affirmation of the inherent authority that staff members already have for making judgments when they deal with citizens.

"There is nothing that says a person working for the government has to sit there and listen and listen and listen," he said. "In essence, the council is telling the city administration, 'We're not going to criticize you if you reach the point where you say enough is enough.' "

No 'General Obligation'

A staff attorney for the League of California Cities, which represents all of the state's 448 cities, agrees.

"The city doesn't have any general obligation to comply with every request made by a person," said Paul Valle-Riestra, an attorney in the organization's Sacramento office.

"You can't cut off city services to an individual just because you think they are being an annoyance," he said, "but there isn't any obligation to comply with every single request for information."

The Ventura policy stipulates that any person who thinks that he has been inappropriately denied a response may bring his request or complaint to the City Council.

The impetus for the directive grew out of an apparent shoving match between Williams, 45, and City Manager John S. Baker at City Hall two weeks ago.

Although Williams had sought to file charges against Baker, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury decided to file a misdemeanor battery charge against Williams because of the altercation.

Williams is scheduled to appear Feb. 17 in Ventura Municipal Court.

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