Documented by Rachel Youdelman
Summary: What you need to know
- The council reached consensus on a list of City Council protocols, covering formalization of matters such as how items are placed on a meeting agenda, when council members may use city letterhead, mayor’s duties and the like. A document with final edits will return to the council on Nov. 6 or Nov. 13. The matter had been continued from the Sept. 11 meeting, when the council decided to draft a limited council member handbook.
Council and staff
Lynne Ashbeck, mayor
Vong Mouanoutoua, mayor pro Tem
Drew Bessinger, council member
Matt Basgall, council member
Diane Pearce, council member
John Holt, city manager
Andy Haussler, assistant city manager
Scott Cross, city attorney
Karey Cha, city clerk
The Clovis City Council met on Oct. 9, 2023, for its second meeting of the month. Ashbeck called the meeting to order at 6 p.m. Though “Columbus Day” remains a federal holiday, California has for five years recognized the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day. Nevertheless, Ashbeck said that “today is officially Columbus Day.”
Pearce led the flag salute. Cha called roll; all council members were present.
Throughout the meeting, Ashbeck made jokes about going home early.
Under 20 people attended in person, about 30 viewed via YouTube and six via Webex. Four members of the public were present to comment. The meeting lasted two hours.
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All council members are elected at large; none represent specific districts of Clovis. To contact any of them with questions or to comment about issues, phone 559-324-2060 (one phone for all) or email:
Lynne Ashbeck firstname.lastname@example.org
Vong Mouanoutoua email@example.com
Matt Basgall firstname.lastname@example.org
Drew Bessinger email@example.com
Diane Pearce firstname.lastname@example.org
Members of the public may attend meetings at the Council Chamber, 1033 Fifth St., Clovis, CA 93612, or online via Webex. The next meeting will be Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. Videos of past meetings and agendas are available here.
Public comment This is the segment of the meeting for members of the public to raise any issue which does not appear on the agenda but is within the council’s jurisdiction.
Two members of the public were present to comment. The first person was Mikaela Silva, a Clovis Community College student, who told the council about the college competitive debate team and invited everyone to attend a “speech gala” hosted by Clovis Community College Speech and Debate Team. She said that they were “the first collegiate forensics team created in the state of California in the past 20 years.” She mentioned that the event is to be held 6-8 p.m.,Oct. 17, in the Academic Center, Room 150. Mouanoutoua advised Silva that speaking skills could have lifelong use. Ashbeck thanked her.
The second speaker identified himself as Nicky Stallard. He has commented at previous meetings, complaining in general about the state government, pandemic-era issues such as masks and lockdowns, and expressing other right-wing points of view. Today he was unhappy about recent state gun safety legislation, which he said he regarded as “civilian disarmament.” He cited terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas in Israel as justification for the need for civilians in Clovis to maintain arsenals. Without offering evidence, Stallard said that Israeli prime minister Netanyahu had a “come to Jesus” moment when he presumably realized that more guns would have helped those attacked. Netanyahu, of course, is a Jew, and does not espouse a belief in Jesus.
“Our state Legislature is doing everything that they can to destroy the quality of life in California,” remarked Stallard. He talked about an “infrastructure” that he said was now in place and would permit him to “ramp up” but he needed help and support from the City Council. He was not otherwise specific, though he appeared to presume the council would grant his requests, whatever those were, whenever he might make them. California has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the country. In 2020, 46,000 Americans were killed with guns; states with lax gun laws have the highest rates of gun deaths.
Ashbeck said that two written comments about mosquitoes had also been received.
Consent Calendar, items 1-4 Three routine finance items and one item for approval of the day’s agenda passed 5-0. The “consent calendar” is a group of agenda items considered routine; they are decided with a single vote. A council member, staff person or a member of the public may pull any single item for discussion; otherwise, the vote proceeds without discussion.
Item 5 After a lengthy discussion, the council voted 5-0 to agree on edits to a list of City Council protocols, which will return to the council for a vote on Nov. 6 or Nov. 13. The matter was continued from the Sept. 11 meeting, when the council decided to draft a limited council member handbook. The consensus then had been to include only three points — the role of the mayor in placing items on the agenda, creation of agendas and creation of proclamations. At the Sept. 11 meeting, the council had rejected inclusion of subjects such as how to manage a meeting, guidance on decorum, interacting with the public and expectations about behavior and professionalism. However, in the draft document included in today’s agenda, Holt included a few other points. These were all the points included in the draft:
- Communications with staff
- Role of the mayor
- City Council meeting agenda preparation
- How City Council members may have items placed on a meeting agenda
- Placement of proclamations on agenda and approval of proclamations
- Certificates of recognition
- Waiver; amendment; rescission of protocols
- City letterhead and city seal use policy
Holt called the draft a “first blush” and said that Cross made some updates as well. The ensuing discussion was long and detailed, and all council members were engaged. Basgall made only a few points but was concise and clear when he did speak.
Regarding “role of the mayor,” the question of how a mayor is chosen came up. The mayor is elected by the council from among the five at-large council members — the question of rotation was raised and appeared to be the consensus for choosing a mayor. The mayor’s position is primarily ceremonial.
Communications with staff or department heads would entail copying emails to the city manager, it was decided. As Holt explained, this section “memorializes the city council-manager form of government” and notes that direction to the city manager must come from a majority of the council, not an individual council member.
Members of the public commented. Brent Burdine, a frequent attendee who typically complains about the state government, asked about communicating with the city manager. Ashbeck clarified that the matter concerned how council members, not members of the public, communicate with city staff. Next, David Rowell, who said in his “day job” he was a lawyer, advised the council to be specific in the language used rather than be concerned that attention to detail could be “much ado about nothing.”
Regarding how items are placed on the agenda, the draft of the protocols reads, “. . . no Council member, including the mayor and mayor pro tem, has authority to individually direct the city manager or city clerk to place an item on an agenda.” A council member can request that the city manager add an item to the agenda, and if the city manager “determines the item involves a matter of policy requiring council discussion,” he will add it to the agenda. However, council members should first bring up the matter in question during the “council comments” section of the council meeting, when a majority vote will determine if the item will be placed on a future agenda.
Much discussion ensued. It was pointed out that sometimes flexibility is needed — a more urgent matter would need to be added more quickly. Ashbeck made the distinction between policy matters and advocacy matters — if the council wanted to simply advocate on behalf of legislation, for example, by directing staff to write a letter of support or opposition, such an item could be quickly added to an agenda without a need to write a report or do detailed research.
Mouanoutoua suggested that council members add any and all items they want to an agenda, because that way, everything would be in black and white. Ashbeck pointed out the infeasibility of the suggestion. He then said that he sometimes agreed about something when he didn’t fully understand it, and that if it were on an agenda rather than simply being discussed in the council comments period, maybe somehow he would better understand it. That’s why he “threw out” the suggestion, he said.
Ashbeck brought up the flag matter of last May, when Pearce had raised an issue about the city’s flag policy during the council comments portion of the meeting, and the council consensus was 3-2 not to direct staff to make changes or add the matter to a future agenda. Pearce, not accepting the consensus, then posted a video to her Facebook page imploring people to come to the next council meeting and protest; further, she suggested that her colleagues were unpatriotic and did not honor the flag, and council members received calls and emails of complaint from residents wanting to know why they didn’t support the flag. At the meeting today, Pearce said that the council “couldn’t have a full discussion” of the flag policy or get a chance to express opinions, so “the media got it wrong.” It was “messy” because the matter was raised during council comments. In fact, the matter was decided, consensus was reached, but Pearce did not like the outcome, so she took action individually, going so far as to video record a speech in opposition to the decision while posing in front of a city flag and wearing a city logo-emblazoned T-shirt; she posted the video on her city-branded Facebook page and asked for public support. All of this behavior is what necessitated the drafting of the protocols for council members.
Today Pearce said further that she was “shocked” and that it was “bizarre” that individual council members could not simply add agenda items as they pleased. She repeated several times that individual council members should be able to add items, not acknowledging the counterarguments. “I just don’t understand why individual council members can’t put items on the agenda,” she concluded.
The consensus was that council members would float suggestions for policy items they would like to add to a future agenda in the council comments section of a council meeting; the council would use this method for 6 months and then assess the matter to determine if any change was needed.
The issue of use of city logos and city letterhead was also the subject of Pearce’s recent behavior. As mentioned, she prominently displayed the city logo in her Facebook video in which she complained about her colleagues; more recently she wanted a letter from the council sent on city letterhead to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, asking them to review children’s books in the Clovis branch of the public library, because she didn’t like certain books. The council voted on Sept. 5 not to send such a letter, but it was decided that individual council members could send their own letters on each council member’s individual letterhead (e.g., “City of Clovis – Councilmember Diane Pearce”). They would not use the city’s letterhead, which would be signed by the mayor.
Bessinger said that when Gov. Newsom “shut down our beauty shops and barber shops,” he wrote a letter on his own, telling the governor that our barbers were “highly trained” and should be allowed to conduct business. He didn’t mention that the shops were closed because of the pandemic, nor did anyone else attempt to thank the city of Clovis for keeping the shops open in defiance of the governor, as is often claimed. His point was that he wrote a letter as an individual, not as a council member.
No mention of other use of the city logo was made other than on letterhead. Holt and Cross pointed out that the letterhead policy had been in place since 2017. If a council member is a “no” vote on an item which passes with a majority vote, letters of opposition may not be written on city letterhead. Pearce remarked “that makes sense,” and Ashbeck said she was “surprised you think so.” Then Pearce said that even with a 3-2 vote, once decided, the council “needs to move forward in unity.” Pearce made this statement without irony, and no one mentioned the flag disagreement, which had been decided with a 3-2 consensus and which Pearce then lobbied against in very provocative terms. Pearce added that “no individual council member should as a council member contradict [a council decision] — as a private citizen, that’s separate, but I think that keeps the whole council moving in the same direction even if we weren’t unanimous.” Ashbeck simply said with a skeptical hesitation, “OK . . .” adding that she wouldn’t argue.
Regarding proclamations, the council rejected making them open to voting and public comment, as Ashbeck said that could be like “inviting someone to dinner and then telling them to go home.” Even Pearce said it could be a “PR disaster.”
After the discussion and group editing, Ashbeck asked if the council could see the updated document at the next meeting, before a vote. Cross said it would come back with edits per tonight’s discussion at the Nov. 6 or Nov. 13 meeting. Basgall asked if the item could be placed in the consent agenda. Cross pointed out that it could, but that it could still be pulled for discussion.
Agenda Item 6 The council voted 5-0 to cancel the Oct. 16 meeting. The next meeting will be Nov. 6.
City manager comments Holt had none.
Basgall had none.
Pearce attended the Fresno County Fair and a horse race, which she said were “really great,” she said.
Bessinger had no comments.
Mouanoutoua talked about some community functions he attended, but he was unclear about what and where they were. He attended the county fair and wanted to push the Board of Supervisors to include the mayor of Clovis in events there.
Ashbeck had no comments.
Closed session The Martinez v. City of Clovis case, an affordable housing case the city lost, lost on appeal, and lost in its request to depublish the decision, was the only item on the closed-session agenda. No action was being requested, said Cross.
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