Amid efforts he argues will return decorum to the often raucous public-comment segment of city council meetings, Calexico Mayor Bill Hodge predicted a less-structured town hall gathering could result in much calmer dialogue.
Hodge was to host the first in a series of the public forums on Oct. 30 at the Calexico Housing Authority’s Hector Mario Esquer Room on Eady Avenue. It occurred after this newspaper’s deadline.
Because the first meeting was taking place on the west side of town, Hodge said during an Oct. 27 interview he expected to continue taking lumps from former Santo Tomas Swap Meet vendors and others over the June closure of the once-popular outdoor marketplace.
“I just have to learn to be patient and listen to them,” Hodge said. “They have the right to speak out.”
The city and the swap meet owners tangled over alleged code violations found after a December 2018 fire there. The owners ultimately closed it in June rather than address the code issues but vendors continue to complain the city has not done enough to help them.
Under the town hall format Hodge said he plans to lift the restrictions placed on speakers at city council meetings, including a three-minute speaking limit.
“I want people to voice their concerns without the time restraints, and not have to worry about decorum or formality,” he said. “My main objective is to allow citizens to take part in the democratic process.”
In recent weeks, Hodge has been cracking down on what he said are personal attacks from members of the public during the public-comment portion of the council meetings. He has said speakers will be asked to leave or sit down if they call council members or city staff members names, or use profanity.
Still, he said he wasn’t worried about the Oct. 30 meeting getting out of control. He added he expects in a more relaxed setting speakers will be polite, listen to one another and self-regulate, for the most part.
Being on the city’s west side, Hodge said he had a number of topics he planned to address. They included the progress of efforts to clean up the New River and to speak on the ongoing problems with the feral cat population in that part of town.
Hodge said he hopes to have another town hall meeting in about three months in a different area of the city. Between now and then he added he will need to find a way to record citizens’ concerns, address them and report back to members of the public. He said he doesn’t know if that will be at the town hall meetings or during city council meetings.
“We have to follow up or no one will have trust in the system,” the mayor said.