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Do public meetings last too long? ->new meeting procedure

 
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What should be done about the length of public meetings?
I agree with the editorial -- the agenda should be trimmed and discussion should be restricted.
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To ensure time for discussion, public bodies should meet more often or start their meetings earlier in the evening.
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If you ask me, public meetings should last longer than they do. There isn't enough discussion.
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Cut back on the prayer, pledge of allegiance, proclamations, and the appearance of citizens.
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Don't do anything -- it ain't broke, so don't fix it.
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Total Votes : 2

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Ellen
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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Fri May 28, 2004 9:56 pm    Post subject: Do public meetings last too long? ->new meeting procedure Reply with quote

This is a response to the editorial in today's Oak Ridger, which ran under under the headline Our View: Good management begins with good time management

Excerpts from what the editorial writer wrote:
...Just last week, we attended [public] meetings that wrapped up about 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., respectively. We don't believe this kind of practice is very productive in involving more of the public....

It is arguable whether or not some of these meetings should even last to the 10 o'clock hour.... We would recommend either trimming the agendas themselves or limiting the discussion so that decisions are made quicker and these "public meetings" are more convenient for the public to attend and sit through in their entirety.

If our leaders cannot even figure out how to manage their time - and the public's time - better during these public meetings, it might make you wonder how well they manage the thousands and thousands of dollars they are entrusted to care for... First and foremost, public meetings should be convenient for the public.

I sympathize with the reporters in wishing for shorter meetings. Unlike most people who go to these meetings, reporters usually must stay to the very end of long public meetings -- and pay attention the whole time. However, I am surprised and disappointed to hear the news media express the view that the public interest is best served when public meetings are conveniently brief.

Maybe I'm strange for thinking as I do, but I have the idea that the purpose of a public meeting is to do the public's business in the full view of the public. This includes airing pros and cons, revealing differences of opinion among our elected representatives, and letting members of the public state their views.

If the agenda is "trimmed", it probably means that public business is delayed or left undone -- that's not a good idea. If discussion is limited, it probably means either that our representatives must vote before they fully understand the merits of what they are voting on or that discussion of the issues will occur outside of public view. I can't believe that the newspaper's editorial writer thinks this would be a good thing.

I attended one of the meetings the editorial probably refers to -- the Oak Ridge City Council meeting on May 16th. I think it ended at about 10:30. The agenda was very full, but many of the items on it needed to be handled quickly -- it would not have made sense to delay them to a later meeting. Furthermore, Mayor David Bradshaw runs a pretty tight meeting, with little dilly-dallying. However, I recall that at least half an hour at the beginning of the meeting was taken up by semi-ceremonial items (such as the opening prayer, pledge of allegiance, and recognition for an Oak Ridge High School competitive science team) and the "appearance of citizens" (in which several people took their 3-minute turns at the microphone). Would the editorial writer like to eliminate these activities?

As I see it, representative democracy is necessarily time-consuming -- and sometimes gets a bit messy. The public deserves a chance to express its views, and to understand why its representatives vote the way they do. The news media usually are pretty vocal in their support of open meetings -- if they truly want open meetings, they need the patience to sit through them.

In summary, I don't agree with the statement that "First and foremost, public meetings should be convenient for the public." Furthermore, I note that Council actually are pretty convenient for the public at large, since members of the public with an interest in City Council meetings generally watch the meetings on TV while going about their regular business. If the newspaper wants to complain about the inconvenience of late meetings, that's OK, but they should speak for their own concerns instead of pretending to complain on behalf of the public.


Last edited by Ellen on Tue May 10, 2005 6:38 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Ellen
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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2005 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It wasn't necessarily an effort to shorten public meetings, but since last summer the Oak Ridge City Council has radically altered its meeting schedule and procedural rules.

City Council is now meeting just once in most months -- fewer meetings should please some people, but they also mean longer agendas. I'm troubled by the fact that having fewer meetings means that even more of the Council's business is discussed in committee meetings and work sessions, which are less well-publicized, less convenient to attend, and generally do not allow for members of the public to speak. Confused

Last evening, the Council adopted a new set of rules of procedure. Citizens will still be allowed to speak on subjects not on the agenda (and a controversial proposal to require advance registration was dropped, although citizens will be encouraged to register in advance), but only on subjects relvevant to city business (no more campaign speeches or bake sale announcements will be allowed).

Agendas will be distributed 10 days before the meeting (instead of the Friday before). This will give Council members and the public some much-needed time to study the business items. Several recent agenda packages have been nearly 200 pages long -- a lot to digest in 4 days, and even worse for members of the public who sometimes couldn't get copies until the day of the meeting. I am concerned that this could make our city's elected leaders less able to respond quickly when new issues come up, but the new rules provide a "safety valve" in the form of the ability to add to the agenda at the beginning of each meeting. Cool
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Ellen
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 6:36 pm    Post subject: Council's new rules of procedure Reply with quote

Last evening was the first City Council meeting under the new rules of procedure.

It was a short meeting -- the agenda was short to allow a long public hearing on the city budget, but there was only a handful of speakers in the public hearing. The speakers were limited to 3 minutes each. I thought it would have been desirable to allow them a little more time, particularly the two city firefighters who asked for more financial resources for the fire department. They are concerned that firefighters are often spread too thin to do an effective job (one issue is that standby pay is too low to be an effective incentive to get people to be on standby), and that worries me. Sad

One of the procedural changes was to move "appearance of citizens" to the end of the agenda -- it used to be near the beginning.

Also, there is now a provision that public comments during this segment must be related to City business. One of my fellow Council candidates is trying to paint this as a sneak attack on freedom of speech:
In an e-mailed 'Press Release', Martin McBride wrote:
In a startling move to limit public criticism, the Oak Ridge City Council announced that henceforth, “political speech” will be banned from City Council meetings!

In [a rather startling] move, Mayor David Bradshaw announced that the rules committee of the City Council had determined that “political speech” should be banned from the 3-minute citizen comments that the Council allows during its meetings. The Mayor seemed to hesitate as he explained the new policy, almost as though he himself was not quite sure what the new rule actually meant.

“I could not believe it, when I heard the new rule. Of course, I decided to conduct my own test,” laughed McBride. When it came time for his 3 minutes, McBride started out by offering a compliment to the council on the way they decisively answered a previous citizen’s issue. “I was a declared political candidate making a political point with my complements. In my book, that classifies the complements as “political speech.”

”Since they allowed the comment, one concludes that “political speech” that complements the City Council is OK. What is unacceptable is apparently speech which is critical of Council decisions or policies---a very troubling development.”

If McBride had been paying attention to the day-to-day operation of City government, he would have known that this change was discussed publicly several weeks ago and adopted formally on April 18. Oops

Still, he's correct in his statement that he managed to make a couple of rather political speeches during last evening's Council meeting. However, he did not repeat his move from earlier this year, when he used the "appearance of citizens" slot at a Council meeting as a platform to announce his candidacy for City Council. Mad I found that offensive at the time, and I imagine that McBride's behavior has much to do with Council's decision to change its procedures to prohibit that sort of speech. Wink

I also spoke in that appearance of citizens slot, but I don't think what I said was a political speech.
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