But Can They Vote 'Present'?
Why spend your time in boring city council meetings just because you were elected to the city council? The Los Angeles Times reports that members of L.A.'s city council frequently leave the chamber during meetings to conduct business in the back rooms, give interviews, or grab a smoke. Sometimes they are gone for an hour or two. But they still manage to vote, thanks to software that performs that function for them (unless they want to vote no). According to the city attorney's office, the practice is perfectly legal:
The rules of the council state that members must activate their own voting machines and must be within the council chamber to be counted as present. But the city attorney who advises the council said his office has defined the "chamber" to include the back rooms, bathrooms and news conference area, all of which are out of public view.
Yet that opinion does not satisfy residents who take the trouble to attend city council meetings and think city council members should too:
Their physical absence frequently infuriates members of the public who show up to testify only to find themselves addressing one or more empty chairs.
"We go there to talk to the full City Council," said Ziggy Kruse of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. "If you get eight people in their seats, you're lucky."
The practice shows a "profound lack of respect for the public," said Terry Francke, general counsel for Californians Aware, a group devoted to preserving open government. "It seems to me to say, 'My time is too important right now to spend it actually participating in a meeting where I was elected to represent the public.'"