Tell MMWD Directors TODAY That You Object
Marin Municipal Water District, which has an infamously bad track record of transparency, public inclusion and responsiveness, is now contemplating a new move in the wrong direction. Late in the agenda of its November 2 board meeting, Directors will consider “streamlining” public comment at all future board meetings.
Email MMWD Directors ASAP and tell them This is Not OK. They are OUR elected representatives and must guard OUR right to be heard and get answers. Send a copy of your comment to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can ensure that record is preserved. Or, voice your protest during discussion of agenda item 7 at tonight’s Zoom board meeting. Late in the board meeting is, unfortunately, a place to bury proposals likely to be unpopular with the public.
CO$T sent MMWD Directors the following Letter of Objection detailing why public comment should not be “streamlined” and proposing sensible ways to fix MMWD’s interminable meetings.
CO$T OBJECTION LETTER – November 1, 2021
RE: Streamlining of Board Meetings (Agenda Item 07)
The Board of Directors of the Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers supports streamlining of MMWD Board meetings, but NOT by further degrading public comment and the Board’s response to it. Agenda item 7 at the November 2 board meeting proposes to “streamline” public comments as a way to shorten overall future meeting time. The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers objects to “streamlining public comment” by both methods proposed in the Nov 2 staff report, including (1)having the board secretary summarize, rephrase, and consolidate all public comments prior to Directors’ responses and (2)combining related agenda items, thereby reducing the number of public comment opportunities. Streamlining public comment in these ways is a major misstep in the wrong direction. MMWD is an organization that already suffers diminishing public trust and growing anger in both Marin and Richmond (where MMWD failed to adequately engage elected officials and residents impacted by the pump station and generator it intends to place there).
Recent MMWD meetings DO need to be run more time efficiently than currently. Regularly scheduled bi-monthly board meetings extend into wee hours and “committee” meetings involving the full board consume entire weekday mornings multiple times monthly.
As a direct result of this poor time management, Board President Cynthia Koehler often moves to reduce public comment time by one-third, from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, even when there are very few speakers. At MMWD’s October 15 offsite board meeting, the roughly 7 indefatigable members of the public who endured six hours of indoor sessions were rewarded with the opportunity to comment only one minute each.
Given the relatively small amount of time consumed by public comments and responses to them, streamlining public comment isn’t a bona fide solution to the long meetings. Rather, such a proposal signals MMWD’s increased lack of interest in public engagement at a time when the public is up in arms about the district’s mismanagement of the drought emergency and high-handed approach to dealing with the public. This same lack of concern for public engagement has infuriated Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. And, this same lack of interest in public inclusion was reflected in MMWD’s recent decision to host an in-person only, indoor, offsite board meeting focused on the hot topic of water supply adequacy — and then refuse to videotape it. CO$T videotaped the entire meeting and posted it for public viewing because the water district didn’t.
Don’t mess with public comment. It sends a very bad message at a time when MMWD needs public support.
The real problem with MMWD’s marathon board meetings is poor management of the REST of the agenda. Fortunately, there are things District Directors could do to fix that. Here are a few positive suggestions:
1. Prepare and post online all PowerPoint slides 72 hours in advance of all Board and committee meetings. Staff and paid consultants CAN do this if told to. Directors and the public could then review those materials prior to the board meeting instead of being slowly walked through each slide during the meeting. This is the most impactful change that could improve meeting efficiency.
2. Make better use of the consent calendar. Use the consent calendar to approve routine expenditures and hires. The board should NOT, however, cede such authority to the general manager as staff is now proposing.
3. Reorganize the agenda to put the most important items first. Instead, topics meriting the most in-depth board and community input are regularly placed late on the agenda, when everyone is tired and ready to go to bed. Rushing against the clock results in less thoughtful decisions.
4. Publish the agenda with rough start time estimates for each agenda item. Other districts do this. These estimates aren’t binding, but help the board president better manage the meeting.
5. The board president must manage the board discussion better, keeping it on topic and concise. Other agencies and districts face equally complex issues but do a much better job of keeping focused.
In sum, CO$T urges MMWD’s directors to streamline its meetings by making better use of its time rather than limiting public input and response to it.