Del Norte County, Calif. supervisors hold court in coffee shop daily for public to talk over concerns without three-minute public comment time limit
There’s nothing like chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee. What about hashing out local issues with a constituent over a cup of coffee — every weekday morning?
That’s what county supervisors are doing in Del Norte County, Calif.
With the constraints of the three-minute time limit for residents to discuss matters at county board meetings, supervisors decided to expand their availability last year by starting daily weekday morning meetings at a local restaurant.
Del Norte County Supervisor Bob Berkowitz said the three-minute rule was always one of his pet peeves. “It was very frustrating for people to have to wait and then not get any reaction from supervisors,” he said. “I saw a lot of frustration from these people who weren’t getting a response.”
Dubbed the Daily Town Hall Meeting, one or two supervisors make themselves available each morning from 6 a.m.–7 a.m. at the Fisherman’s Restaurant in Crescent City to meet with anyone about anything, he said. They’re careful to keep it to just two supervisors so as not to break any rules.
“There’s a back room at the restaurant, so that’s reserved for us,” Berkowitz said. “It’s all free flowing because it’s designed to allow them to express whatever concerns or ideas that they have — not coming from us but coming from them. It’s their concerns, not our concerns.”
Each supervisor purchases their beverage or meal so no cost to the county is involved, and thanks to an agreement with the restaurant, they are under no obligation to buy anything at all. “They’re civic-minded too,” Berkowitz said.
They’re often joined by other elected officials from the city or the state, and everyone gets in on the discussions. So far, the listening sessions have proved to be fruitful, touching on everything from marijuana to gas taxes to porta potties.
Residents asked that the county add porta potties to an annual Fourth of July celebration at a local beach. “It’s simple issues, it’s complicated issues, we never know from day to day what the issue will be,” Berkowitz said. “Keep in mind this is at 6 a.m. in the morning so people have to be really concerned.”
Last week, he said residents came to one of the meetings concerned about the tattered American flags seen around town that should be replaced. The conversation continued on Facebook and there is now a veterans’ group, Berkowitz said, that “wants to be a part of this and help replace the tattered flags.”
Another hot topic discussed at the town hall meetings: term limits for county supervisors. It’s now made its way onto the ballot for June 5, “and we’ll see what they want to do,” Berkowitz said. If it passes, supervisors will be held to three terms.
“Sometimes it’s not in our purview but we can bring issues to the public’s attention,” he said. “People want to get involved if you give them a reason — if they feel it’s worthwhile, they will,” he said. “Like I say, they don’t have to wait two or three weeks for a board meeting to talk about an idea.”