Long-running meetings that may last until after midnight are a disservice to the public, leaving those interested in a particular agenda item waiting. And waiting. Waiting until the blathering is complete, possibly until after midnight.
There is a simple solution: Bifurcate an agenda item into public hearing evenings and action meetings. This gives the council time to digest comments. The action meetings would be limited just voting – and could just last a couple of hours. There may be a technicality about closing public discussion: the ‘public’ hearing may need to be continued to the action evenings, with ‘closing’ the public hearing the first action for a topic.
B. Is it time for a seven – member council?
Improvements afforded by moving from a 5-member to 7-member council. I wrote up the following commentary years ago. There are benefits and drawbacks. The obvious drawback is more blathering. When I was on the Planning Commission a seven-member panel worked fine, and allowed members more flexibility in accommodating their professional and family lives without breaking a quorum.
A 5-member city council may induce limitations on good governmental procedure. There are several examples where this constrained the output of the council.
i. Meetings can halt with the absence of one member.
A glaring example is the cessation on council deliberation when one member is missing. On September 21, 1999 the council meeting comprised of three members abruptly halted when one councilmember left the meeting due to loss of quorum. On May 12, sensing a voting deadlock on balloting or rescission of the radioactive residential zoning Ordinance 926, the 4-member Council continued the discussion to a future meeting when the aforementioned council member would be present.
ii. Limited representation of broader ideas
Another problem showing itself example is limitation on representation of a spectrum of subject matter views. This is aggravated by the existence of ‘voting blocks’. One councilmember merely echoing the vote of another denies the public the benefit of getting to consensus based on the merits of ideas. This is a problem on major decisions.
iii. Limited perspective on council subcommittees
A 5-member council also creates a problem on views on subcommittees. Subcommittees are limited to a minority of the council, that is, 2 members. Where there is a ‘block’ on the council, 2 members may not be enough representation. One memorable instance was the subcommittee composed of former Councilmember Dubos and Winkler to rewrite the city’s mission statement – removing ‘Quality of Life,’ which at the time raised eyebrows.
iv. Remove the temptation to cure bad decision making by recall
With a wider council bench it is easier to tolerate and absorb the occasional aberration.
v. Better opportunity to share workload
In addition to the local council and city business, the five council members must also participate in external regional committees and bodies. This is easier with 7 instead of 5 council members.
vi. Limited election candidate participation
What happens when there is more qualified people available the council than open seats? Does this shortchange the process overall. Are people running because of ability to get elected rather than for their capabilities once on the council? A large council would smooth this out. Of course, a 5-member council would function marvelously with better selection in the first place.
I feel I bear some responsibility that this is upon us, as a consequence of my Almanac post of October 14, 2016, which presented this picture of the lopsided distribution of Council Members across the city. See,