Council bans texting, cell phone use during meetings

ENCINITAS — The City Council voted to ban texting and the use of other electronic devices during Wednesday’s council meeting.In a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Jerome Stocks opposed, the council made it one of the few bodies with a policy that prohibits popular forms of communication while on the dais.

The council voted on July 20 to form an ad-hoc committee to review its policy regarding public records retention after the city lost a lawsuit brought by resident Kevin Cummins over a draft policy it refused to release.

Council members Teresa Barth and Jim Bond made up the subcommittee. “I had to go back to the tape of that July 20 meeting several times to review what we were actually asked to do,” Barth said. “It morphed a little into what we have presented tonight.”

The subcommittee met on four occasions to discuss procedures for council meetings, email policy and retention of public records, according to Richard Phillips, assistant city manager.

“We’re trying to get in front of these issues,” Barth said, referring to the lack of precedent in other municipalities on electronic communication from the dais.

“We want to ensure the public that while we’re up here deliberating, we are really paying attention,” she said.

Two speakers agreed. “This is my three minutes, nobody else,” said resident David Smith. “Go home and take care of your kids if you think that the important thing for you to do.”

Deputy Mayor Kristin Gaspar said she wondered who the “cell phone police” are, while the council was in session should the policy be adopted. “I’m not sure how this practically works,” she said.

As the mother of three young children, she said she would not be able to participate in council meetings without having her “lifeline” in case of an emergency.

“I think we’re kind of overcomplicating the issue,” Council member Mark Muir said. He motioned to accept the committee’s recommendations.

The majority of the council agreed that not paying attention to electronic devices during meetings was common courtesy. “We all assume we have to be connected 24/7,” Barth said. She said perhaps the solution would be to ensure the landline on the dais was connected. “I don’t know, I’ve never heard it ring,” Stocks said when Barth asked aloud if the phone was connected.

“If I feel like there’s contact with the outside world then I’m fine with that,” Gaspar said.

Stocks said he supported the concept but didn’t think the language of the policy was “ready for prime time.” “I find this poorly crafted.”

In terms of access to city records, the public supported a transparent system. “If it exists, we have a right to have it,” Sheila Cameron, a former council member said, referring to drafts.

“It’s your obligation to inform us what our city is doing,” Smith echoed. “Let the public know. The fact that we had to go to court is appalling.”

“Through the lawsuit, through what we learned…the assumption is that we should release (documents) unless there is a reason not to,” Barth said.



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