By Miriam Raftery
April 11, 2021 (Lemon Grove) – On April 20, the Lemon Grove City Council will hear a proposal that would limit councilmembers’ speaking time to five minutes per agenda item, plus three additional minutes later on. The proposed action targets new member Liana LeBaron, who has been criticized by colleagues for lengthy comments up to 45 minutes and questions to staff that some say are rude or reflect a lack of preparation.
The Council will also consider moving some agenda items to a later date if a meeting runs past 9 p.m., three hours after the 6 p.m. starting time.
Councilmembers Jennifer Mendoza, a Democrat, and Jerry Jones, a Republican, introduced the measure.
Mendoza says meetings have run over five hours regularly since LeBaron’s election, and Council has had to schedule several make-up sessions.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Mendoza said she offered to brief LeBaron on any items of interest and encouraged her to reach out to City Manager Lydia Romero. Mendoza says if a Councilmember is not sufficiently prepared to discuss an agenda item, “it is a disservice and disrespectful to other council members, the staff and our constituents, who have to sit through endless questions and explanations that should have been resolved before the council meeting.”
Jones faulted LeBaron for grilling staff members and for taking sides with a cannabis dispensary advocate in a recent hearing based on “hearsay” not evidence.
LeBaron contends that such a rule would amount to censorship. “I think the public is going to be able to capture the essence of a councilmember attempting to be silenced,” she said. LeBaron also claimed that City Manager Romero and other staffers have not responded to her inquiries.
Imposing time limits on elected officials’ speech is relatively rare, but has occurred. The City of San Jose recently adopted a plan limiting councilmembers to 10 minutes to speak on an item initially, followed by five more minutes to discuss or ask questions.
In East County, this is not the first time that a local board has considered whether to place limits on the actions of an outspoken council member, or muzzle their speech.
The Grossmont High School District imposed time limits for trustees to speak and infamously turned off the microphone of former dissident member Priscilla Schreiber. La Mesa’s City Council once considered requiring two councilmembers to place an item on the agenda, but ultimately rejected the idea. El Cajon’s City Council opted against a similar proposal targeting Councilman Ben Kalasho, who had sought to put many dozens of items on the agenda, but instead adopted a rule requiring two members’ approval to request that staff create a report.