PLEASANT HILL -- Mayor Michael Harris withdrew his proposal for a new ad hoc subcommittee Monday after his colleagues and members of the public raised concerns about its purpose and compliance with the state open meeting law.
As proposed, the subcommittee would address issues concerning public safety, public health and benefits for elected officials. Unlike standing committees, ad hoc committees aren't required to comply with the Brown Act, which mandates that government meetings are noticed and open to the public.
Pleasant Hill resident Dorothy Englund questioned whether Harris' suggested subcommittee meets the definition of an ad hoc committee because, she said, it has neither a specific task nor a limited term.
She also said public safety and public health are continuing subjects more suitable for a standing committee as defined by the Brown Act. Finally, Englund said it seems "strange" to lump in the issue of elected officials' benefits with public health and safety.
Councilmen Jack Weir, Ken Carlson and Tim Flaherty expressed similar concerns about the transparency, purpose, goals and subject matter of the ad hoc subcommittee.
Harris agreed to withdraw the proposal until he comes up with a specific task for the subcommittee. He also will confer with the city attorney about whether it should be a standing or ad hoc committee and other issues related to the Brown Act.
"I recognize I may have acted in haste," Harris said.
After much debate, in 2012 the City Council eliminated the dental and vision benefits for council members and the part-time city clerk and treasurer. The council members agreed that the city would pay 50 percent of the Kaiser premium and they slashed the monthly payment from $400 to $200 for elected officials who decline coverage. The changes went into effect after the November election.
Before Monday's council meeting, Harris said he would like the Ad Hoc Public Health, Safety and Benefits Subcommittee to revisit the benefits issue since there are two new members on the council -- Carlson and Flaherty.
None of the elected officials receives heath coverage through the city, but Carlson, Flaherty, Weir and City Treasurer Mark Celio are getting the $200 monthly payment, according to Freda Warren, Pleasant Hill human resources manager.
"Even though we made some progress, I think there are some other things we may want to look at," said Harris, including whether elected officials can be excluded from CalPERS, the state retirement system.
"We still are allowing elected officials to have medical insurance through the city and I'm still concerned about the potential expense that generates for someone who is not a full-time city employee."
Three years ago, Harris pushed the council to adopt tougher anti-smoking rules, including prohibiting smoking in indoor and outdoor common areas in multifamily housing and a requirement that landlords make 50 percent of existing apartment units nonsmoking by 2016.
"I think (the committee) is an opportunity for us to review the effectiveness of the smoking ordinance, see what other cities are doing and see if there are other things we should be doing," Harris said.
Since 2011, the Contra Costa chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has been calling for the council to adopt an ordinance regulating the sale of firearms and ammunition in Pleasant Hill.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, the group has ramped up the pressure. In February, the Brady Campaign organized a candlelight vigil at City Hall for the Newtown victims and sent Harris a letter asking the council to ban home occupation firearms dealers and to adopt an ordinance regulating gun sales modeled on one the city of Pinole passed last year.
In addition to banning home occupation firearms and ammunition dealers, the Pinole ordinance requires a conditional use permit, a police chief permit, a public hearing process and other safety measures for gun stores.
If the council were inclined to consider regulating gun sales, the ad hoc committee could address the issue, Harris said.
Wendy Lack, who doesn't live in Pleasant Hill but keeps tabs on the council, brought up gun regulations when she criticized the proposed subcommittee for a lack of transparency.
"Gun control should be addressed with public participation," she said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.