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East Issue / Length of Public Meetings : Several recent Thousand Oaks City Council and Planning Commission meetings have run past 2 a.m. Members of both boards have expressed concerns about the length of the meetings, particularly because they have been forced to limit public comment. What, if anything, should be done to reduce the length of these meetings?

March 07, 1994

Elois Zeanah, Mayor of Thousand Oaks

Something has already been done. Shortening these meetings was one of my goals when I first got into office. I felt that we should not have meetings that ran into the early hours because that denies the public the chance to participate fully. In the past couple of months, there have just been a few exceptions where we've run over midnight, and I'm very pleased that we have turned around the trend of running into the middle of the night. My sense has been that it's really up to the staff to keep the meetings shorter. They can pretty well determine based on what they put on the agenda how late we'll be going. It's incumbent on staff to keep a balance of items on the agenda. It is also incumbent on individual members of the council to keep our comments focused instead of using the meetings as a political platform. And, it's up to the chair to keep control over how much time is being taken up with comments. I would much prefer council members to discipline themselves. We should set the example ourselves. But I think though that there has been a marked improvement.

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Ekbal Quidwai, Frequent speaker at Thousand Oaks meetings

As far as the Planning Commission meetings are concerned, the commissioners just ask too many questions. I don't know why they don't ask some questions of the staff before the meetings. If they did that, the meetings would probably be half as long. The problem at the council is that there is a genuine disagreement on certain core issues. Nobody has a monopoly on virtue or the truth, and people have the right to debate the council members. Unfortunately, once one council person is attacked, it becomes a personal thing. When people ask them questions, instead of answering them to the point, the council members make it into a long argument that really has nothing to do with the issues. The other thing that has happened is that the council has become divided. They attack each other. And when you have these attacks going back and forth, the council members start arguing about minor things. The end result is that, rather than talking about things that are important, they end up making charges and answering charges, and there's hardly any time to address the issues.

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Irving Wasserman, Chairman, Thousand Oaks Planning Commission

There are reasons the meetings have run so long recently. A number of important cases piled up over the latter part of last year, which are all happening now. They are very complex, and they demand a lot of questioning and a lot of answers. The only thing we can do to shorten them is something the public usually doesn't like. We normally give the applicant or anyone who wishes to testify who is part of an organized group 15 minutes to speak. Other speakers get five minutes. Two weeks ago, we cut it to 10 minutes and three minutes, which is the chair's prerogative. That's something we've tried, but we dislike doing it. The other thing we can do is to try to have the commissioners ask their questions in a more concise manner. Both bodies want to give anyone and everyone as much of a chance to speak as possible. So we have to look for other ways to shorten the meetings. I'm searching deeply for an answer. I'm very upset about it, frankly. And I want people to know that I have dedicated myself to making the meetings shorter.

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Dee Zinke, Executive officer, Building Industry Assn.

I don't think they're that long. If it's an important issue, I think it's important for everyone to have the opportunity to express their opinion. There are people with technical backgrounds and knowledge that can help the City Council and Planning Commission make their decisions. If keeping the meetings short requires a different kind of forum, like holding a Saturday afternoon meeting or dividing an issue into two meetings, then that would be fine. The council and the Planning Commission need to look for creative ways to ensure that the people interested in an issue have the chance to ask questions and provide information to the city officials. The fact that the staff reports are only available that night or the Friday before really doesn't leave enough time for people to address concerns in advance by providing a written report. The only window available to address the commission and the council is to appear at the meeting. All the way around, I think the more open the exchange of information, the more valuable the process.

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Nancy Dillon, City clerk

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