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With Mayor Lamar Thorpe Absent, Antioch Council Pushes for Rule Changes

(Image courtesy of city of Antioch via Bay City News)

By Tony Hicks
Bay City News

Members of the Antioch community came out Tuesday night to defend Mayor Lamar Thorpe at a special meeting called by two City Council members to examine how the council does its business.

Turns out, it was much ado about almost nothing, at least when it came to a proposal to consider Antioch switching from four to five council districts and annually rotating the mayor’s position among council members, instead of electing one mayor for a four-year-term.

There were two proposals up for discussion: the first, the realignment of power on the council, from a more-dominant mayoral system to power-sharing of rotating mayors. The latter wouldn’t have gone into effect until after the 2024 election, when Thorpe’s current term ends.

Members of the public still accused the council of trying to undermine the mayor, with one person calling it a “coup d’etat.”

The idea immediately lost steam after the council heard from a political law expert, who said that after the mandatory redistricting of 2020, the council likely couldn’t legally redistrict so soon unless it had compelling reasons to get a court order to do so.

Thorpe was absent from the meeting. There was no clear reason given as to why, though there was at least one allusion to the last-minute timing of the meeting.

The other topic of how council agendas are constructed got much more traction.

Prompted by a “several-hour conversation” last week between Council member Mike Barbanica and Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker — who typically sit on opposite sides of the council’s ideological spectrum — the council discussed how council agendas typically prioritize some issues and why some council members’ requests to tackle certain subjects get pushed back for months, or even years.

Antioch council agendas are typically put together by the mayor and the city manager.

“We both talked about some frustrations that have come about over the last two and a half years of items not coming back to the agenda,” Barbanica said at the meeting. “We bounced ideas off each other for literally a couple of hours.”

“This has nothing to do, really, with one person,” Barbanica said. “This has to do with the governance of this community and being in a district, can I get items on the agenda? Can (Torres-Walker) get items on the agenda? Can all of us get items on the agenda? This is not about one individual person. This is for future councils to come so we’re not in the situation of council members feeling as though that they cannot get an item on an agenda.”

Antioch council meetings sometimes run long and don’t complete the whole agenda. The city has a policy — of which some council members admitted to not being aware — that council-requested items come back for discussion within six months.

Under a proposal agreed upon by the four present members Tuesday, that six months would be reduced to 90 days. They also agreed to no more than three items requested by council members per agenda (council members frequently referred to overworked staff caused by a shortage of employees as a reason why items don’t get discussed).

They also agreed any agendized item that the council didn’t get to will become first on the agenda at the next meeting.

The council also agreed to limiting open-session meetings to four hours. Since meetings typically begin at 7 p.m., any items beginning after 11 p.m. would require an on-the-spot vote of council members.

The new policies, which require formal wording by City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith, will come back to the council for more discussion and a vote.

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