It’s Not Working
Last night was the first council meeting in three weeks. When the council last met on August 23, there were 19 motion responses, 20 new motions, 18 votes, 5 public utility hearings, 2 informational reports, an executive session and other miscellaneous items.
Predictably, the council was unable to get through this list and 22 items were carried forward to last night’s meeting as “unfinished business.” In addition to these 22 items were 13 new motions, 12 votes, 15 motion responses, 5 budget reports and a memorial to the former Queen of England.
There were a precious few interesting topics that did get attention – homelessness in the downtown and it’s effect on local business, a return to neighborhood schools, and the the waste management contract to name three. However, these issues represent only a small percentage of what should have been addressed. Once again, due to time constraints, many motions and responses were swept aside. Just before ten o’clock, a motion was made by Councilor Rourke to forward all remaining motions to the city manager and that all responses be accepted.
Mayor Chau stated that this motion passed. It is unclear to me whether the Mayor made sure this action was the will of the council. This was followed by a roll call – however, the microphones were off so I could not hear what, exactly, was being voted on. Apparently the council voted to end the meeting. I don’t think I was the only one confused, as Councilor Gitschier asked whether he could make a motion to meet next Tuesday, September 20, to take up the substantial pile of unfinished business. However, the meeting had already ended and the motion was deemed untimely.
Overall, I like this council. I think it’s generally comprised of serious people with good ideas. As such, it’s frustrating to see so many of these meetings run like a half-assed clown show. At the outset, the meetings generally don’t start on time. 6:30 should mean 6:30. Why is it so difficult to start on time? Once the meetings do finally get going, we spend an inordinate amount of time on citations, memorials, recognitions, “sister city” announcements, etc. I’m not suggesting that this time is always wasted or that these items are not important – but when you have only 3 and 1/2 hours to get through multiple weeks’ worth of backlogged issues we need to look at trimming some less substantive items. It should go without saying that we don’t have the luxury of starting late and reading memorials to the Queen.
Next, there should be some level of coordination among the councilors as to the number of motions filed each week as well as more effort to consolidate motions. Motions dealing with specific requests relative to traffic signage should be reduced to phone calls or emails. Fewer, more focused motions will afford more time on each response and will afford the public an opportunity to digest the information.
As the Mayor is responsible for the order of the meeting, he should take greater care in limiting speakers’ time on the microphone. It’s a fine line to walk, but we could use a heavier hand in keeping things moving. The Mayor should also seek to limit the overused tactic of taking items “out of order” as it often leads to confusion, skipped items and ultimately additional delay. Most awards, recognitions and memorials should be held in ceremonies prior to the start of the meetings. After the ceremony, perhaps they could be read into the record en masse. We shouldn’t spend more time on a verbatim reading of an obituary than we do on a subcommittee report.
Finally, the city should look to eliminate the every other week “summer schedule.” If one meeting a week is too much to bear, don’t seek the office. I’m surprised that no councilor filed a motion to this effect this term. Hopefully they will do so when they meet again in the fall.