Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

CITY HALL — Gadflies, bring a friend to the next City Council meeting.

A new pilot, passed by council at a retreat over the weekend, will allow members of the public to donate their public speaking time to one another.

Council discussed public speakers, managing agendas, second readings of new laws, and more at a retreat held on Saturday at City Hall.

Prior to the approval of the one-year pilot, members of the public were allowed to speak on a topic for two minutes. With the changes, a speaker can now accept an additional two minutes of speaking time from an audience member who is present and willing to forfeit his or her time.

The Planning Commission allows the donation of speaking time and during an August meeting council suspended normal rules, allowing for consolidation of time.

“The one time we tried it I thought it was pretty chaotic,” said Councilmember Tony Vazquez, who ultimately voted in favor of the change. “I don’t think it helped, I think it actually hurt it.”

Councilmember Ted Winterer, who suggested the change at the August council meeting, proposed the amendment.

“It was my experience on Planning Commission that is was not used frequently, but when it was it did elevate the quality and substance of the public input,” he said.

Mayor Pam O’Connor voted for the change but expressed reservations, saying that it would lengthen the already long council meetings.

“I think we will have, in effect, raised the time to four minutes per speaker,” she said. “Because it doesn’t take a whole lot for a speaker on either side of an event to bring another person down here and get four minutes. Just be prepared, if this does pass we are effectively raising speaker time to four minutes per speaker and that’s OK, but we will be here longer.”

The measure passed on a vote of 5 to 1, with Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day casting the lone dissenting vote. Councilmember Bob Holbrook was not present.

“I suspect that if this were to go one way or another in terms of the lengths of our meetings, it’s going to expand the length of the meeting and not necessarily improve the quality of input,” O’Day said.

City officials had recommended sticking with the current practice of not allowing donated time, citing the fact that only 25 percent of other municipalities allow time donation.

Council also discussed the way in which city officials and council set up council agendas.

“Often it’s applicants that want to request specific council meetings in which to hear their applications,” said City Manager Rod Gould, who sets the agenda along with O’Connor and O’Day. “We’re finding it increasingly difficult to honor those request. It had been an informal practice in the past and we’re recommending that we no longer pursue that, that we bring items when they’re ready in a balanced meeting format.”

Council approved the measure and also voted to schedule second readings of ordinances during the meeting following the approval of the ordinance.

Recently, confusion has resulted when council members who voted in favor of an ordinance are not present for a second reading. This can cause the ordinance, which was previously approved, to fail the second time around.

O’Day said he felt that voting during the second reading of an ordinance should reflect the “will of the council” and that all members should vote to approve the ordinance.

Vazquez disagreed with the concept, saying that another council member’s absence should not dictate the way he is expected to vote.

Council also voted to have city officials evaluate dates for a potential hiatus, possibly during July or August.

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