Conley Ulich seeks to break up council subcommittee

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Also on the agenda is a proposal for the city to have an official song and for staff to create a process to select one.

By Jonathan Friedman / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu City Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich is saying “not so fast” regarding the formation of a city council ad-hoc subcommittee on emergency communications and public relations. The subcommittee members, council members Laura Rosenthal and Lou La Monte, were selected last month during a council meeting not attended by Conley Ulich. She says at least one of those council members needs to be removed to make room for a member with more experience regarding emergency services. She has placed an item on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting to “reconsider the formation” of the ad-hoc subcommittee.

“Laura and Lou do not have the experience of working on the council during emergency issues,” Conley Ulich said in a Tuesday interview of the recently elected council members who began their terms in April. “We need somebody on the committee who has the experience, who has been through the issues and knows what they are.”

Conley Ulich noted in the interview that she personally has this experience. She focused on her time as mayor pro tem during the Corral Canyon Fire in November 2007. Since then-Mayor Jeff Jennings was out of the country during the fire, Conley Ulich was the de-facto elected head of the city. She communicated with outside agencies and was the contact for the media. But Conley Ulich said it does not necessarily need to be her on the committee. She said Mayor Jefferson Wagner and Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert, who have both been on the council since 2008, have the necessary experience.

“If I were running a company in the private sector, I wouldn’t put two people on a committee to devise strategy for the company who had been there for a month,” Conley Ulich said.

La Monte and Rosenthal declined to respond to Conley Ulich’s comments. Rosenthal said the subcommittee has begun meeting. She said she and La Monte have met with “different experts,” including staff from other cities. Recommendations will be presented to the entire council soon. She also stressed that the committee is about a “general communications plan” and not just about emergency communications.

Conley Ulich was travelling in Europe during the meeting when the members were selected. The membership was unanimously selected by the four council members in attendance. Subcommittees are restricted to no more than two elected members due to the state open-meeting law. Conley Ulich said she was disappointed upon viewing the video of the meeting that discussion on the item lasted only a few minutes.

This is the second time in less than a month that Conley Ulich has objected to something involving communications. At the June 28 council meeting, she challenged the proposed contract renewal for Fiona Hutton & Associates, the city’s public relations consultant. Conley Ulich said she wanted the contract to go out for a competitive bid. She also questioned the city’s use of a public relations firm.

“It concerns me that we are paying a PR firm $8,000 a month to spin,” she said. “And where I come from, actions speak louder than any words. And I am really pleased how this city has acted … it’s our job to be the communicators, not the PR firm. And I’m concerned that staff is having the PR firm speak, and not the people who were elected.”

The council did not put the contract out for bid, but it reduced the length of Fiona Hutton’s contract from the staff-proposed one year to six months. If the firm wants to renew the contract again, it will have to go through a competitive process. Conley Ulich voted with the other council members for this.

Also at Monday’s meeting the council will discuss a potential amendment to the zoning code to allow for roadside stands advertising produce products. A discussion about this had come up at a recent council meeting, and city staff was asked to research the subject. According to a staff report prepared by Principal Planner Stefanie Edmonson, “cities do not generally regulate or permit roadside field stands. However, some counties allow for roadside field or ‘produce stands’ on agricultural or rural agricultural zoned properties via a use permit.”

She added, “While the most obvious place for a roadside field stand might be adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway, to allow for the visibility of the operation, Caltrans would not allow these stands in the public right-of-way. This is especially important because they could potentially impact public safety/traffic on [Pacific Coast Highway].”

Also on the agenda is a proposal by Rosenthal for the city to have an official song and for staff to create a process to select one. A family presented a city song proposal at a recent council meeting.