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Public Gets Chance to Sound Off on Lompoc City Council’s Transparency, and Is Not Impressed

Councilman Jim Mosby’s town hall on open government draws numerous complaints about intimidation, lack of communication

Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby brought early Lompoc planning and budget documents to a town hall meeting at the Lompoc Public Library.
Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby brought early Lompoc planning and budget documents to a town hall meeting at the Lompoc Public Library. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

If the more than two dozen residents who attended Lompoc City Councilman Jim Mosby’s recent town hall meeting prepared a report card on transparency at City Hall, it would read “needs improvement.”

Mosby convened the Tuesday town hall on transparency after a resident’s request for a discussion on the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meetings law for legislative bodies, was ignored at a recent City Council meeting.

The 90-minute meeting at the Lompoc Public Library included numerous complaints about poor communication with residents, an inadequate city website and the lack of clear and understandable information available for the public to keep abreast of what’s happening in their community.

“What I don’t see is good communication to the public,” one resident said. “I have to hunt and Google search four or five times just to find the city meeting minutes.”

“You need to make your web page more user friendly,” another speaker said.

The harshest comments were about how the public is treated at council meetings, and the complaints came from multiple speakers who described the experience of speaking to council members during meetings as “frightening” and “intimidating.”

“It almost seems like as soon as you get up to address the City Council, you get looks or staff members roll their eyes,” one speaker said. “That’s so unprofessional. They’re there to serve the public.”

“To the public, it’s as though we’re not really welcome there,” another attendee said. “When a council member or the city administrator attacks someone from their little pulpit up there, they need to be called out on that.”

Another speaker questioned why city staff sit on the council dais with the five elected council members, saying “with nine people looking down on you, it’s intimidating just to get up to talk. The perspective is it’s not being well-received.”

“I think there’s a big disconnect between your constituents and our city,” one speaker told Mosby.

Other complaints included not posting complete agenda materials, attachments and meeting minutes on the city’s website for the 13 public advisory commissions that are also subject to Brown Act requirements.

Mosby promised to relay the concerns he heard at the meeting to Mayor Bob Lingl and City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, and he encouraged residents to attend and speak up at City Council and commission meetings.

City Councilman Jim Mosby talks about government transparency at a town hall meeting he convened. Click to view larger
City Councilman Jim Mosby talks about government transparency at a town hall meeting he convened. (Carol Benham / Noozhawk photo)

“We need the engagement,” he said. “What I hate is we have a council meeting and we’re the only ones talking. We’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to ask the tough questions from the people.”

Challenged to explain his support for a planned motorsports park that has the potential to put the city on the hook to pay back part of a $1 million state grant, Mosby said he had some concerns if construction is started, but can’t be completed by the nonprofit Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation.

“If I see that, I’ll be one of the people stepping up and saying ‘nope,’” he said.

Mosby also explained his opposition to the “creative financing” for a proposed $29.8 million fire station that was rejected by a 3-2 council vote in March, calling it the “most controversial item on the agenda that I’ve gone through in a year and half. We vetted it well.”

Residents questioned a pending plan to approve cost reimbursements from the city’s enterprise funds, including municipal utilities.

“At what point will these rate increases stop?” one speaker asked. “Tell the people now. You need to translate some of this information into simple terms that the average every day resident can understand.”

Mosby, who was appointed in December 2014 to fill the remaining two years of Lingl’s council term after he was elected mayor, said he is “digging into” old General Plan and capital improvement plans from “when they planted the seed of Lompoc.”

Displaying a “novelty item” zoning map from 1959, Mosby said Lompoc was at one time projected to have a population of 196,000 by the year 2020.

“I’ve had a number of people ask ‘what happened to Lompoc?’” he said. “I love going through the office libraries and finding books from 30, 40, 50 years ago ... and trying to connect the dots.

“Part of transparency is understanding some of the history and where we’ve been. Many times it tells us where we shouldn’t be going, stepping into the same piles.”

Mosby said after the forum that he was pleased with the turnout and plans to hold more town hall meetings in the future.

“The interaction was great,” he said. “We probably had close to 50 questions. I try to do my due diligence and I try to communicate with as many people as I can on these items. I’m only as strong as the people beside me.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Carol Benham is a longtime local journalist who lives in Lompoc. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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