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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.



Hector Lopez March 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Interesting that the biggest offender Jerome Stocks voted against the ban. Perhaps, he is afraid that he will miss his cues from his handlers as to how he should cast his vote.

Concerned Resident March 22, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Yes, our outgoing Mayor Jerome Stocks, cast the only vote against more transparency in government.

For the first time, to my knowledge, Councilmembers Kristin Gaspar and Mark Muir seemed to be thinking for themselves. This vote didn’t appear to be pre-scripted, as was the case for the “surprise interim policy change” re mayoral selection to be for a two year term . . . surprise because the two year term alternative wasn’t mentioned on the agenda, a clear Brown Act violation. Public discussion had been closed, and there was no subsequent Council discussion after Stocks made his second substitute motion, which, if upheld, would have the effect of once again skipping over, for mayor, Teresa Barth who has been elected and re-elected by the voters . . . She has an informed, well-educated and aware following who have often felt disenfranchised by the actions of Council majority, who repeatedly have shown disrespect and discourtesy to both Teresa Barth and Maggie Houilhan.

One of the public speakers, during oral communications, pointed out with great veracity, how Council Members are often talking to one another, or whispering to the City Attorney, or the City Manager, when public speakers are at the dais. This is hard to see, usually, if one is watching from home. We citizens certainly do deserve respect, and Council’s full attention.

By his casting the only nay vote, against what surely should have been a “no brainer,” Jerome Stocks seems to be allowing his position of authority to go to his head, clouding his rational thinking. To me, Stocks comes off as being more competitive, and often cruel, than compassionate about the public’s wishes, or passionate about the public trust, including the trust public servants hold, as a duty and an honor, to be transparent, to be courteous, and and to be kind.

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