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Resolved: Reduce Council Puffery

Two city lawmakers seek to cut meeting time spent on ceremonial proclamations.

October 14, 2005|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to cool the hot air emanating from their colleagues, two Los Angeles councilmen will introduce a motion today to shorten long-winded ceremonial presentations at city meetings.

The proceedings have become a staple of the thrice-weekly council meetings, with honorees receiving an official proclamation and a congratulatory speech from a council member.

Ecuadorean beauty queens, professional wrestlers, a TV weatherman, descendants of the city's founders, the firefighters who pursued Reggie the alligator and the co-star of "Napoleon Dynamite" have received proclamations this year.

The problem: As soon as one council member lauds an honoree, others jab their "request to speak" buttons, unable to resist the gravitational pull of their microphones.

Enough already, say Greig Smith and Jack Weiss.

They complain that the presentations delay the real business of the city, sometimes by more than an hour.

On some days, meetings have run so long that the council lost the quorum needed to consider issues because members left to attend to other business. When that happens, members of the public who wanted to be present for council actions have to return another day.

"I understand that there is a place for recognizing community members, but the ratio of frivolity to the people's business has been thrown out of joint in the past few years," Weiss said.

A City Hall veteran, Smith believes the problem has worsened since the city began televising council meetings in the early 1990s and council members discovered that their constituents were actually watching.

"The day that belly dancers came in, I was beyond amused," recalled Kim Thompson, a San Fernando Valley activist who frequently attends council meetings. "I'm sitting there thinking my kids are going to be home from school in three hours, and I'm watching belly dancers come belly dancing down the aisle."

Not everyone agrees that the presentations are a problem.

Councilman Tom LaBonge admits that he offers proclamations as often as "they flip flapjacks" at the Pantry, the downtown diner.

"There are 4 million people in this city and only 15 microphones, and by golly I'm going to use mine," said LaBonge, referring to the city's 15 council members. "People don't walk up to me on the street and say, 'You're doing too many presentations.' They say, 'It's nice you honored that school.' "

LaBonge says the real problem is that council meetings rarely start at their prescribed time of 10 a.m. because most council members are late.

Of course, City Council members are not the only local elected officials who inject pomp into their routines. Los Angeles County supervisors do much the same thing before their marathon sessions on Tuesdays.

Next week, the supervisors are scheduled to honor, among others, Miss North Los Angeles USA and a Caltech astronomer who discovered a planet 149 light-years from the Hall of Administration.

Smith and Weiss have asked the council's Rules Committee to consider a number of suggestions to help the group discipline itself.

Among them are restricting presentations to between 9:30 and 10 a.m. on Fridays and permitting only the council member sponsoring a presentation to speak.

A draft of the motion also suggests installing a traffic-signal-like device that would turn red when a speaker's time expires. There is already an electronic board with a clock on it, but many speakers treat the clock as L.A. drivers do red lights, and ignore it.

Perhaps it has something to do with the surroundings.

Last month, council members Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks honored actor Efren Ramirez, a Lincoln Heights native who played Pedro the aspiring politician in of one of Perry's favorite movies, "Napoleon Dynamite."

In the film, Pedro runs for student body president and gives a short speech that concludes: "If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true."

At City Hall, Ramirez uttered the line and then added, "I don't have much to say."

But that didn't stop him.

Ramirez kept right on talking, and the clock kept right on ticking.

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