THOUSAND OAKS — Things are going to be different when Andy Fox becomes mayor this Tuesday. Or so he hopes.
In his yearlong rotation as mayor, Fox said his first priority is to limit the gabbing, political grandstanding and infighting that make Thousand Oaks' Tuesday night City Council meetings interminable.
The mayor pro tem will take over the gavel from Mayor Jaime Zukowski at this week's meeting--contingent on the formality of a council vote--and he plans to wield it with a firm hand.
Frustrated with meetings that routinely drag on past midnight, Fox said it is time for the council to take a long look in the mirror and recognize its own inefficiency.
"I really think the council needs to turn the finger around and point it directly at ourselves," Fox said.
His ideas to make things run more smoothly on the fractious council include plans to meet with a facilitator to mediate some of the personality conflicts between members, cut back on the number of items each official can put on the agenda, and set time limits for political speeches.
The council tried earlier this year to streamline its own meetings by limiting public comment to the scheduled public hearings and to a one-hour period before the council delves into the agenda. That doesn't always work. For instance, at the most recent meeting, on Nov. 21, public comment was supposed to conclude at 7 p.m. Instead, it continued until almost 8:30 p.m.
But Fox said the public isn't to blame for the marathon sessions.
"The problem is not the community. It is the five people sitting up there," he said. "If we start our meetings at 6 p.m., I cannot conceive why we can't finish by 11."
Whether the L.A. County firefighter can succeed where others have failed is questionable. Tension among the council members is running extremely high. At the Nov. 21 meeting, a motion made after midnight to table several items--when most of the few remaining members of the public were groggy-eyed--touched off a verbal brawl.
One of the items that was tabled was Councilwoman Elois Zeanah's bid to put campaign reform on the March ballot. Without a council vote that night, campaign reform would be postponed at least until November, 1996.
Boiling over, Zeanah started to speak.
"Excuse me," Fox said. "That is not debatable. We have a motion on the floor. There is no speech. We have to vote."
Zeanah kept trying anyway. Fox asked for a recess. She ignored him. Then, when Councilman Mike Markey interceded, she blew up.
"Councilman Markey said many times, 'Some of us have to work for a living; we need to get out of here,' " Zeanah said. "We hear that comment every week from him. Every week he wants to rush, rush, rush when we have city business to do."
She slammed her fist into her hand for emphasis.
"She's out of order," Markey said.
Marshall Dixon was one of the few residents still at City Hall for the scene. He was not impressed.
"I would say that was probably the most out of hand that it has been," Dixon said. "Frankly, I expect that it will get that way again."
Fox and Markey, a Compton homicide detective, are the only two council members who have other jobs. Both must get to work early, sometimes leaving Thousand Oaks for Los Angeles as early as 5 a.m.
Beyond his own sleep deprivation, which he said he expected when he took the job, Fox questions how good the late-night meetings are for the community and for city staff, who must wait until the bitter end.
"The bottom line is, they are human beings and they need sleep too," he said. "Their productivity is obviously compromised."
Even some veterans of former councils are appalled by the level of discord on the council.
"We could have terrible arguments on one issue and then turn around and work with each other on the next one," said Lee Laxdal, a councilman from 1980 to 1989. "What I see now is a brute majority bludgeoning through decisions."
Fox said he may call on the same group of mediators who sat down in January with members to help develop the council's yearly goals.
"This time we aren't going to be talking about goals though," he said. "It would be strictly about council decorum. That is where we have our shortcomings."
He also wants to consider switching from Mason's to Roberts' rules of order for meeting procedural guidelines. The council members frequently turn to the city attorney on matters of order and, sometimes, as happened last week, they fight about how to proceed.
Another possibility is to limit the number of items each council member can put on the agenda every week.
"I want to ensure that one member not monopolize a meeting with their viewpoint," Fox said.
To that end, he said he might recommend putting a time limit on council comment, giving officials an established time limit, such as five minutes, then a few chances to rebut.
"We have a timer right there," Fox said. "It could remove speechmaking and grandstanding and that stuff."
The impact of television on speechmaking is undeniable, he said.
"When you listen to the dialogue, it has very little to do with convincing or conveying your point of view to the other council members," he said. "Ninety-five percent of it is meant to play to the television audiences. That is not why we have council meetings."
Fox said all his ideas are subject to council approval.
"You need the cooperation of everybody," he said. "There is no power to being mayor."