City of Portola appoints new council member and discusses remote participation
By Lauren Westmoreland
The City of Portola City Council held a regularly scheduled meeting on the evening of Wednesday, April 26.
After opening with the pledge of allegiance, the meeting turned to a public comment from Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson.
Ferguson gave an update on the $400,000 of CARES Act money to be distributed to micro-enterprise businesses in unincorporated parts of Plumas County and the City of Portola. “At this point we anticipate that we will release guidelines as of May 1 for applicants, and then will open the application period for a 60-day period, from June 1- July 30, said Ferguson. She noted that anyone who wanted to contact her on the topic could do so at 283-6214.
Councilmember Stan Peiler reported that he had attended a meeting of the Plumas County Transportation Commission in Quincy, and Mayor Pro Tem Pat Morton noted that she had attended the most recent meeting of LAFCo.
Mayor Bill Powers added that he had attended the LAFCo meeting as well and noted that the meeting covered a budget summary report. “As many of you know, the City of Portola with about 10 percent of the county’s population is paying 50 percent of LAFCo funding, which is a great deal,” Powers sad. He also noted that LAFCo had also been paying a former CEO for health insurance for his health insurance for over 20 years, and that the board had decided to stop that and look for alternatives. “We are no longer going to go down that route,” Powers noted. “We feel that it’s time to go rogue and do things our way a little bit.”
Powers also attended the Airport Land Use commission as a commissioner, with news there mainly focusing on the airport in Chester.
City manager report
Interim City Manager Jon Kennedy reported that the city was ramping up the community cleanup project again and starting to deploy dumpsters to the North Side of Portola.
Kennedy also reported that the city had received a visit from CalOES and FEMA to assess damage from the winter storms, with more to come. Kennedy also attended a Plumas County Board of Supervisors remote meeting on plans for Greenville’s fire recovery.
For those in the city that may be interested in obtaining assistance with cleaning up their property, contact the city at 832-6801.
Powers added that the green waste pile was currently unavailable due to a creek running through the road, and that “there will be one date for the chipper to come to Portola in June with specific requirements of no more than 12 yards of green waste, all end butts facing the road stacked neatly and no larger than twelve inches but no smaller than three inches.”
After approving the consent agenda, council went on to appoint a candidate to the vacant seat on the council.
Appointment to city council
Only one qualified person had submitted a letter of interest for the vacancy on city council, Jim Murphy. Murphy is a retired Portola City Manager who worked for the city for 14 years, with 20 years of government experience, ten years in law enforcement and five years as chief of police, as well as ten years of serving as city manager for other communities.
“I’ve been a resident of Portola for 25 years and I have a Masters’ degree in Public Administration,” Murphy said with a smile. Morton made a motion to appoint Murphy, Turner seconded, and Murphy was appointed by unanimous roll call vote.
City Council reorganization and Oath of Office
Portola City Clerk Jason Shaw administered the Oath of Office, following which Murphy took his seat to serve the city as a council member.
Renew State of Emergency proclamation
A state of emergency was declared on March 8 due to the large winter storm, along with Plumas County. The state of emergency proclamation was renewed by unanimous roll call vote.
Discussion about virtual meetings
Council moved into a lengthy discussion about the possibility of limiting public comment to those physically present at the meeting. Over the course of the discussion, council weighed their options to accept comments from those attending via Zoom and emphasized that they wanted to ensure that the public had the option to “attend” remotely. “We don’t have the staff to manage online effectively when there is a really robust presence,” Kennedy said. “There are ways to make public comment- each agenda item has a space to click on and make a public comment, in addition to being here in person.”
Turner stated that she would like to return to in person commenting only, and Peiler agreed. Powers noted that he felt that in the past, council had heard rumors and complaints that ‘were not in keeping with decisions they had already made or plans that had already been formulated.’
It was clarified that council members could provide a very brief response to non-agendized comments during the course of a council meeting, with the option to discuss whether to put an item on a future agenda or do further research at the request of councilmembers.
Public comment was received via Zoom, with Portola resident Josh Hart speaking out about the change. Hart strongly disagreed with the option to remove the ability to give public comment remotely, stating that there were many city residents, including some elderly and disabled, that were unable to attend in person, and that shutting down remote public comment was effectively an attempt to silence the public.
“It is not the role of the council to determine the quality or relevance of comments,” Hart said. “Having that forum is really important to people in Portola- people have become accustomed to the option of calling in with their concerns.”
One woman in a mask then commented that she had pneumonia and bronchitis and said that if the city were to take away the ability to have remote participation, it would bring in more people in her condition. She then asked what was easier, to mute someone when they are online or to deal with them in person during a meeting of city hall. “The intent is to manage our meetings effectively, and not in such a Keystone Cop manner,” Kennedy noted. “I love all public comment- we don’t have the staff to handle it every time, but I do want to look into adding audio/visual for viewers in the future.” “Anyone online still has options to get comments to us,” Powers said.
Council ultimately voted unanimously by roll call vote to continue with live streaming meetings for viewers to listen to, and to only accept public comment from those attending the meeting in person.
Plumas County 2021 wildfires long-term Recovery Plan process
Plumas County Planning Director Tracey Ferguson gave a presentation and second briefing to the public on the Plumas County 2021 wildfires long term recovery plan in collaboration with the Dixie Fire Collaborative.
“I’m here to provide you this information briefing as to the second round of community meetings and what the status of the long-term recovery plan process is,” she said. She explained that Plumas County is leading this effort on behalf of the public as a county wide effort, not only for the areas that did see the Dixie and Beckwourth Complex fires, but also areas that did not, like the City of Portola. Plumas County is also in collaboration with the Big Spark collaborative, the long-term recovery group focused on the Dixie Fire communities that were affected most prominently such as Greenville and Indian valley.
Ferguson said the county has set up a recovery support function framework or RSF framework around five different recoveries: housing and commercial buildings, infrastructure, natural resources, health and social services, and economic.
“This is the best practice both at the state and federal level for disaster recovery to organize around these five different functions and within this framework and I’ve now added the city in the middle- first and foremost shepherding the process for the public and the community and the county and wanting to bring the city into the fold definitely within the conversation,” she explained.
Ferguson went on to express that the work had started with the Dixie Fire Collaborative in the fall of 2021.
“We are now phase two in the long-term recovery plan,” Ferguson said. She spoke about the need to prioritize projects with community input, and how the plan will identify funding sources, supporting and directing the funding because without funding projects will not happen.
“Phase three of the plan, implementation, will start in the fall of this year so we are nearing here having a public review draft out- we are taking virtual comments (link here) through May 12 so those that could not attend meetings can visit the Plumas County website and find all of the presentation materials, boards and survey links to be able to provide virtual input,” Ferguson said. Viewers can also a find virtual survey, fill it out by hand and return it in person, via email or snail mail.
The next step will be for the county to formulate the public review draft of the plan, which is anticipated to be released in June of this year. There would then be an additional solicitation for public comment before putting the final touches on the plan and going before the Board of Supervisors for adoption.
Ferguson also noted that the community could find records of all community meetings held around the county thus far on the county website here, including the priorities from community members on what sort of projects they would like to see handled first.
“We started with 54 projects and we whittled them down to 27 projects, but the highest voted project projects you might say- the ones that received the most dots was the Indian Valley Community Services District water and sewer project,” she noted. Number two was broadband improvements, as well as connectivity pertaining to economic development. The community has also pointed to a need for microgrids that speaks to energy independence. Housing was another major need identified along with county gathering spaces and places to drive economic development.
Ferguson will be speaking on the topic to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors at the next meeting on Tuesday, May 2 at 10:00 a.m. “$24 million is coming to Plumas County as dedicated money under CDBG,” she noted. “It sounds like a lot of money I’m told- it’s not, so we get to leverage that and make the most of it, and we’ll see how the action plan shakes out.”
You can find more information here or by emailing [email protected].
City Finance Officer Susan Scarlett gave the public the opportunity to comment on the 2023/2024 budget for the city after welcoming Mr. Murphy to the council. “We have worked together in the past and I look forward to working with him again,” Scarlett said. “Staff is working diligently on the upcoming budget and this is the second opportunity for the public to comment- also the public is certainly welcome to attend the May 17, 3:00 p.m. budget workshop with the City Council that will be the first opportunity for the City Council to review the budget with staff.”
Without any public comment, the meeting concluded.
One thought on “City of Portola appoints new council member and discusses remote participation”
Good morning all,
I find it interesting that the individuals that have to most to say about the City of Portola and the city council don’t even live inside the city limits. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am approachable, and will meet with you and listen to your concerns. I may not have an answer for your concerns immediately, but I will do what I can to find an answer. I ran for City council to be a voice for the citizens. But I will not be a voice for those who do not live in the City and those who make comments as concerned citizen, anonymous, or group participant, etc.
Prior to COVID, virtual meetings were non existent. If someone had a concern they would either write a letter asking that it be read into public record or show up in person to be heard. And yes those who were disabled and elderly came to the meetings. We had one gentleman that was wheelchair bound, double amputee, that came to almost every meeting.
I opposed virtual meetings before I was on the council and wrote letters stating such. I feel that the public asks for transparency from the council, I in turn ask for transparency from the public as well. Hiding behind a fake name to me, gives you no creditability. So to say that the council is not being transparent, look in the mirror, are you being transparent?
If you have an issue come to a meeting, start a conversation, contact me to discuss it. [email protected].
Thanks Leah Turner, City Council member and citizen.
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