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Team building retreat session for Santa Barbara City Council causes friction

A retreat set for this Saturday for the Santa Barbara City Council to work on team building and other issues has been snagged by a dispute.

It involves Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilmember Jason Dominguez and it took place at a recent meeting where Dominguez was attempting to either ask a question or make a statement about the retreat.

He didn’t get but a few words out before being cut off.

“So it makes me wonder why with this kind of a secretive meeting we can not talk about it,” said Dominguez.

The meeting notice has been posted to notify the public. It will take place at an airport location, which is 10 miles from downtown, but still on city property.

The session is open for the public. It will not be televised or recorded.

It’s not uncommon for city council work sessions to take place outside of the council chambers where cameras are mounted and meetings are broadcast.

Over the recent years, there have been different city sessions at Casa Las Palmas event building in Chase Palm Park or other similar locations. Those sites do not have cameras and recordings for the public to view what takes place.

“We have sometimes informal gatherings and this is one of those. It won’t be recorded,” said Murillo.

She says the public can come in person but that will be the only way to see what happens.

Murillo wants the meeting to be a positive time together and says it is necessary after a tough start to the year. The council was sworn in the day of the Montecito mudflow disaster which impacted Santa Barbara geographically and economically.

The city retreat does not have a listed agenda of topics that will be covered.

“We’ve hired a professional consultant to help us talk about communications skills and how to work together . We have to be a team,” said Murillo.

She said the council has been transitioning to have district representatives and it’s important to understand how to cover narrow neighborhood concerns and overall city issues at the same time.

Murillo says it will be a casual gathering without suits and ties.

Dominguez says two days before the session, he isn’t sure what the council is getting for the price its paying. “It’s a $12,000 consultant yet I haven’t seen anything from him on what we should expect,” he said. “So we should save a lot of time and money and bring the transparency back.”

The friction at the council meeting took place when “I tried to bring this up as a motion to have the entire council look at this and I was interrupted and told I couldn’t bring this motion,” said Dominguez.

On the city’s recording of the September 18th meeting, Dominguez spoke saying, “we have a special meeting on September 29th,” and Murillo then spoke at the same time saying, “I am going to interrupt you Mr. Dominguez this is not a time for that .”

Dominguez then pressed on to get a more public exposure of what was going on. “I understand but I just want to emphasis because it is related to transparency and publicness so I think it is important to do it at a part of the meeting when there are a lot of people here.”

The mayor did not approve that discussion saying, “I’m running the meeting and I am telling you no.”

Dominguez said it was the right time and place to bring up the issue. The mayor has said since that meeting, the discussion could not take place because it was not on the agenda. That point was not made at the time.

“It’s very disturbing considering the trends at the federal level. It is disturbing to see that we are actually taking efforts to make a meeting secretive,” said Dominguez.

He won’t be at the retreat and is the only councilmember that is expected to miss it.

Dominguez said he has a youth leadership program that needs his time Saturday and it was planned well in advance. He says it is not a boycott.

When asked how he would find out what happened there, Dominguez said he could get a debriefing from his fellow councilmembers.

Murillo wants to have a full council on hand and said, “you know I might make one more try before Saturday to make sure everyone gets there. I can’t force people to do things.”

Dominguez says the city has serious work to do on specific topics, mainly the homeless crisis and the economic down slide in the core retail and restaurant areas of State Street downtown. He says work sessions on those topics are urgently needed.

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