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Lompoc City Council Talks Public Transparency Amid Calls for More Civility

The Lompoc City Council meets to discuss transparency and more during a special meeting Tuesday night. Pictured from left are council members Jim Mosby and Dirk Starbuck, Mayor Bob Lingl, and council members DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega. Click to view larger
The Lompoc City Council meets to discuss transparency and more during a special meeting Tuesday night. Pictured from left are council members Jim Mosby and Dirk Starbuck, Mayor Bob Lingl, and council members DeWayne Holmdahl and Victor Vega. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

A special Lompoc City Council meeting Tuesday evening on council transparency, perceptions and how to improve public participation in city government ended with an agreement to continue the discussion, as well as pointed criticism from some longtime residents about the lack of civility at recent meetings.

The two-hour meeting — part civics lesson, part rehash of recent controversies and critiques of how the council operates — ended with an agreement to put an item on a future agenda to create an ad hoc committee to recommend ways to improve public participation in city government.

Foregoing the traditional seating arrangements, the meeting was arranged as a workshop, with council members and residents seated around tables, which one speaker said “put all of us on a level playing field.”

Mayor Bob Lingl began the meeting by asking that the discussion stay focused on suggestions on how to improve public participation in the future. 

“I have three rules: that we are polite and respectful to everyone, we stay positive and we stick to the agenda.”

Suggestions from the 30 public attendees included requests for the city to communicate with residents more via Facebook and social media, provide more advanced notice of what is on council agendas, and gather public input via social media before city staff develop proposals to bring to council for discussion or vote.

Lingl said the city is in the process of expanding its presence on social media with the recent hiring of a community relations and public information officer, Samantha Scroggin, who said a policy on the city’s use of social media is in development and should be implemented soon. 

Resident Tyann Campfield said participation in city government is a two-way street. 

“We have to want to be educated and be involved," she said. "Ultimately, it’s on our shoulders to be involved, it’s not just you guys that need to be fair.”

Joyce Howerton, a former three-term Lompoc mayor, agreed.

“Transparency means you have to publicize it and put it out there, and then now it’s my responsibility to follow up,” she said.

“We all have a certain responsibility … to find out what’s going on at the city, to find out what’s on the agenda and figure out how to address it,” Howerton said.

The request to create an ad hoc committee — adding to the city’s 15 existing committees and commissions — was offered by resident Jane Behr, whose repeated request for a meeting on transparency provided the impetus behind Tuesday’s meeting. 

Behr distributed a five-page memo to council members listing items for discussion by the ad hoc committee, including public posting of council minutes and meeting documents, revising the order of agenda items, creation of a master calendar of recurring and future agenda items, and more oversight over spending money on unbudgeted projects. 

“I think what I’m aiming for is a systems approach,” Behr said, calling it a “complicated issue” that needs prioritized recommendations 

Behr, who dominated the public discussion, repeated her recent criticism of Lingl for asking public speakers to state their names — a longstanding practice of all mayors in recent memory — allowing city staff to sit on the elevated dais alongside council members, and moving the speaker’s podium to the center of council chambers. 

“Your goal should be to make people feel comfortable,” Behr said.

Councilman Victor Vega moved to put Behr’s recommendation for an ad hoc committee on a future agenda and received concurrence from Councilmen Dirk Starbuck and Jim Mosby.

Some speakers said accusations, “ax-grinding,” and finger pointing at recent council meetings were an impediment to public participation as well as harmful to the city’s image to outsiders, including potential investors. 

Howerton said she’s been attending Lompoc council meetings for 50 years and noted “an interesting dynamic that’s going on now” that makes recent meetings uncomfortable. 

“There’s a lack of civility that I’ve noticed recently, and somewhat of a rudeness.” Howerton said.

“I used to say at the council meetings, ‘Remember that somebody’s child is watching this council meeting tonight, and remember, what do you want that child to take away from this?’”

Resident Michelle Tognazzini also agreed the tone of recent meetings made people uncomfortable.

“This past year, there’s so much hatred now that comes out and you can feel it in the council meetings and that’s intimidating in itself,” she said.

Pastor Bernie Federmann, a 30-year Lompoc resident who has served on city commissions in the past and continues to volunteer as a chaplain for public safety employees, said he was sorry for how council members have been treated in recent meetings.

“You don’t deserve to be addressed that way,” he said. “I’m sorry that some people run up to the podium and just flail about. There’s a better way to exercise our freedom of speech and represent our city well to the rest of the world.

“A call for transparency is fine. But a call to understand and be understood is more appropriate. Accusatory language used in this hall has bothered me for months,” Federmann said.  

Noozhawk contributing writer Carol Benham can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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