Commentary: On the Politics of Long Council Meetings

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The job of a blogger is never quite what one would expect. I’ve discovered this myself reporting on things at times that I would never have even thought about before. The issue of long meetings and civility are one of them. To be honest, I doubt the next council elections are decided on these scores. And I will go as far as to say, if they are, I will be extremely disappointed, just as I would be if national elections are decided on the issue of gay marriage when we are fighting a war abroad, oh wait…

Nevertheless it seems sometimes the role of the blogger is referee as much as it is reporter or commentator. This is because often public official make claims that are never really parsed by the reporters who report on them. And there is rarely any kind of public discourse centered around the dissembling of various claims. That is unfortunate, for in the public discussions, there needs to be some thing of a fact checker than can place issues in the public realm that the public can then weigh in on. At the end of the day, it may be that sometimes these issues are of little consequence, other times they turn out to be crucial for understanding the behavior and motivations of our elected officials.

This role comes to mind as I read the California Aggies’ version of the “long meetings” dispute which of course followed the one by us and the one by the Davis Enterprise.

Right away, they are factually incorrect when they state:

“Greenwald insists meeting four times a month, Asmundson two.”

In fact, Greenwald has insisted on “more” meetings per month, not necessarily “four.” There is almost something Shakespearean about that error, that I cannot place. There kind of a poetic irony to that. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat crucial distinction since the responses within the article seem to dovetail from it.

The issue of whether city staff members have enough time to prepare agendas and reports for weekly meetings is also being debated by the council.

“We’re not an overstaffed organization,” said Davis City Manager Bill Emlen, who coordinates Tuesday night meetings. “We have been pushing our wheels and we have to work pretty hard.”

Emlen said the current workload is manageable for his organization, but he would ideally like to see meetings every two weeks – enough time to produce reports without feeling rushed.

On one level I understand it, on another level, I really do not. In the fewer meetings, they presumably prepare for the same number of items, so staff would be doing a similar amount of work. Would they not? Perhaps I’m not understanding the math here. Is it not better to spread the work out over two meetings rather than have to prepare for a large amount of items for a single meeting? Why is staff preparation time an issue here unless the number of items really are not a constant.?

Councilmember Don Saylor was paraphrased as saying that “he supported going as late into the night as necessary to complete the city’s business.”

Legitimate questions I think have been raised about the wisdom of making important decisions late in the night. There is also the public to consider. Most people are not watching the meetings at 1 am. Nor can many who have to work attend these meetings on a regular basis. So Mr. Saylor’s support for such meetings to go late into the night does not appear to be taking the public into consideration.

“He noted in an e-mail that the duration of a meeting wasn’t related to how many items were on the agenda.

“The longest meeting in 2006-07 (8 hours 30 minutes) featured 19 total items, including 13 consent items and 6 regular agenda items,” Saylor wrote. “The shortest (2 hours 58 minutes) featured 15 total items, including 10 consent items and 5 regular agenda items.”

This statement really misses the point. First of all, the number of consent agenda items are almost irrelevant, even when those items are pulled they are generally (But not always) discussed fairly briefly.

The key issue is not number of regular agenda items, but the degree of complexity of those items. You could put 10 regular agenda items that are fairly quick, or three that are quite long.

In the meeting in question from April, a single agenda item was so complex it required much discussion, public input, and then multiple motions to sort through it. That item by itself took over three hours. On the other hand, there are other agenda items that may take 20 minutes, sometimes less.

The proper variable to discuss is not the number items. The point in contention is not therefore too many items, but rather too many of those long items that require hours of discussion. Many of these complex items are predictable in the sense that you know when you see the item that it will take much discussion. Thus meetings could be organized in such a way so that those type of items are spread across meetings, rather than having several very long items on the same agenda.

Regardless there is a final point to be made here and that has to do with civility. Don Saylor made it an express point during his op-ed to the Davis Enterprise and during several monologues from the dais to note the problems of incivility in council and community discourse. And yet at the point that Asmundson made her attack on Mayor Greenwald about Mayor Greenwald not being able to run a meeting, Councilmember Saylor feel silent. Where was his call for civility then? It is clear that he intends to use the civility issue as a platform to run for re-election, given his track record and uneven application of it, I’m not sure it will give him the kind of traction he expects it to. Then again, perhaps he figures if they are talking about civility, they cannot talk about his land-use positions.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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56 thoughts on “Commentary: On the Politics of Long Council Meetings”

  1. davisite

    Emlen and the Council Majority’s interests coincide here. City staff has been repeatedly shone to be ill-prepared at best when they were publicly “on the hot seat” to explain their positions(remember their “performances” concerning the surface water plans and the change of psychological services provider). The current Council Majority has a clear history of favoring keeping the public’s participation as well as council exploration of issues to a minimum
    at open council meetings.

  2. davisite

    Emlen and the Council Majority’s interests coincide here. City staff has been repeatedly shone to be ill-prepared at best when they were publicly “on the hot seat” to explain their positions(remember their “performances” concerning the surface water plans and the change of psychological services provider). The current Council Majority has a clear history of favoring keeping the public’s participation as well as council exploration of issues to a minimum
    at open council meetings.

  3. davisite

    Emlen and the Council Majority’s interests coincide here. City staff has been repeatedly shone to be ill-prepared at best when they were publicly “on the hot seat” to explain their positions(remember their “performances” concerning the surface water plans and the change of psychological services provider). The current Council Majority has a clear history of favoring keeping the public’s participation as well as council exploration of issues to a minimum
    at open council meetings.

  4. davisite

    Emlen and the Council Majority’s interests coincide here. City staff has been repeatedly shone to be ill-prepared at best when they were publicly “on the hot seat” to explain their positions(remember their “performances” concerning the surface water plans and the change of psychological services provider). The current Council Majority has a clear history of favoring keeping the public’s participation as well as council exploration of issues to a minimum
    at open council meetings.

  5. Anonymous

    The meetings should start earlier – much earlier.

    If meetings are taking up to 8 hours, it is really stupid to start them at 7:00 pm. This means that they are planning a meeting that extends to 2:00 – 3:00 am. That has got to just wipe out the next day for staff, council members and any citizen who hangs in there until the end.

    Also, during Ruth’s mayorship, there were many more meetings than 2 per month. Is Ruth’s health a factor in the push to have fewer meetings?

  6. Anonymous

    The meetings should start earlier – much earlier.

    If meetings are taking up to 8 hours, it is really stupid to start them at 7:00 pm. This means that they are planning a meeting that extends to 2:00 – 3:00 am. That has got to just wipe out the next day for staff, council members and any citizen who hangs in there until the end.

    Also, during Ruth’s mayorship, there were many more meetings than 2 per month. Is Ruth’s health a factor in the push to have fewer meetings?

  7. Anonymous

    The meetings should start earlier – much earlier.

    If meetings are taking up to 8 hours, it is really stupid to start them at 7:00 pm. This means that they are planning a meeting that extends to 2:00 – 3:00 am. That has got to just wipe out the next day for staff, council members and any citizen who hangs in there until the end.

    Also, during Ruth’s mayorship, there were many more meetings than 2 per month. Is Ruth’s health a factor in the push to have fewer meetings?

  8. Anonymous

    The meetings should start earlier – much earlier.

    If meetings are taking up to 8 hours, it is really stupid to start them at 7:00 pm. This means that they are planning a meeting that extends to 2:00 – 3:00 am. That has got to just wipe out the next day for staff, council members and any citizen who hangs in there until the end.

    Also, during Ruth’s mayorship, there were many more meetings than 2 per month. Is Ruth’s health a factor in the push to have fewer meetings?

  9. Rich Rifkin

    On his blog, Matt Rexroad had an interesting thought on the topic of long meetings for the Davis City Council:

    “Here is the part the I think is important for the presiding officer to understand. Their job is not to make sure every one in the room understands and has their questions answered. The job is to make sure that the members of the body have their questions answered and understand. That sounds terrible but is true. A City Council meeting is not the time to educate everyone in the community.”

  10. Rich Rifkin

    On his blog, Matt Rexroad had an interesting thought on the topic of long meetings for the Davis City Council:

    “Here is the part the I think is important for the presiding officer to understand. Their job is not to make sure every one in the room understands and has their questions answered. The job is to make sure that the members of the body have their questions answered and understand. That sounds terrible but is true. A City Council meeting is not the time to educate everyone in the community.”

  11. Rich Rifkin

    On his blog, Matt Rexroad had an interesting thought on the topic of long meetings for the Davis City Council:

    “Here is the part the I think is important for the presiding officer to understand. Their job is not to make sure every one in the room understands and has their questions answered. The job is to make sure that the members of the body have their questions answered and understand. That sounds terrible but is true. A City Council meeting is not the time to educate everyone in the community.”

  12. Rich Rifkin

    On his blog, Matt Rexroad had an interesting thought on the topic of long meetings for the Davis City Council:

    “Here is the part the I think is important for the presiding officer to understand. Their job is not to make sure every one in the room understands and has their questions answered. The job is to make sure that the members of the body have their questions answered and understand. That sounds terrible but is true. A City Council meeting is not the time to educate everyone in the community.”

  13. Deb W.

    That 8 hour 30 minute meeting was the night council majority tried to push through the zoning changes on the Target proposal. There were about 20 people there when they adjourned at 2:48am.

    Ruth directed city staff to front-loaded the agenda so that the Target discussion didn’t start until 9pm specifically because she wanted it to go as late into the evening as possible so that there wouldn’t be as many people there to hear the lack of discussion on the EIR.

    This is the same reasoning for wanting fewer and later meetings. Fewer people watching means less accountability for their actions.

    BTW, at about 2am (during that 8 hour 30 minute long meeting) a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match between Sue & Ruth in the women’s bathroom during a recess (including the repetitive use of the “B” word).

    Obviously that late night meeting spread the council member’s patience. Based on that instance fewer and longer meetings don’t seem in the council’s best interest.

  14. Deb W.

    That 8 hour 30 minute meeting was the night council majority tried to push through the zoning changes on the Target proposal. There were about 20 people there when they adjourned at 2:48am.

    Ruth directed city staff to front-loaded the agenda so that the Target discussion didn’t start until 9pm specifically because she wanted it to go as late into the evening as possible so that there wouldn’t be as many people there to hear the lack of discussion on the EIR.

    This is the same reasoning for wanting fewer and later meetings. Fewer people watching means less accountability for their actions.

    BTW, at about 2am (during that 8 hour 30 minute long meeting) a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match between Sue & Ruth in the women’s bathroom during a recess (including the repetitive use of the “B” word).

    Obviously that late night meeting spread the council member’s patience. Based on that instance fewer and longer meetings don’t seem in the council’s best interest.

  15. Deb W.

    That 8 hour 30 minute meeting was the night council majority tried to push through the zoning changes on the Target proposal. There were about 20 people there when they adjourned at 2:48am.

    Ruth directed city staff to front-loaded the agenda so that the Target discussion didn’t start until 9pm specifically because she wanted it to go as late into the evening as possible so that there wouldn’t be as many people there to hear the lack of discussion on the EIR.

    This is the same reasoning for wanting fewer and later meetings. Fewer people watching means less accountability for their actions.

    BTW, at about 2am (during that 8 hour 30 minute long meeting) a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match between Sue & Ruth in the women’s bathroom during a recess (including the repetitive use of the “B” word).

    Obviously that late night meeting spread the council member’s patience. Based on that instance fewer and longer meetings don’t seem in the council’s best interest.

  16. Deb W.

    That 8 hour 30 minute meeting was the night council majority tried to push through the zoning changes on the Target proposal. There were about 20 people there when they adjourned at 2:48am.

    Ruth directed city staff to front-loaded the agenda so that the Target discussion didn’t start until 9pm specifically because she wanted it to go as late into the evening as possible so that there wouldn’t be as many people there to hear the lack of discussion on the EIR.

    This is the same reasoning for wanting fewer and later meetings. Fewer people watching means less accountability for their actions.

    BTW, at about 2am (during that 8 hour 30 minute long meeting) a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match between Sue & Ruth in the women’s bathroom during a recess (including the repetitive use of the “B” word).

    Obviously that late night meeting spread the council member’s patience. Based on that instance fewer and longer meetings don’t seem in the council’s best interest.

  17. Rich Rifkin

    “a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match”

    Sounds like it’s time to install cameras in there.

  18. Rich Rifkin

    “a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match”

    Sounds like it’s time to install cameras in there.

  19. Rich Rifkin

    “a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match”

    Sounds like it’s time to install cameras in there.

  20. Rich Rifkin

    “a few of us women got a show and witnessed a knock-down, drag-out, shouting match”

    Sounds like it’s time to install cameras in there.

  21. tansey thomas

    Wow! I guess I will have to get a front row seat in the Womens Restroom. No, I will not deprive a needy person of a seat. I will wait and ask the women who trail the combatants into the restroom what happened. I believe in Civility!

  22. tansey thomas

    Wow! I guess I will have to get a front row seat in the Womens Restroom. No, I will not deprive a needy person of a seat. I will wait and ask the women who trail the combatants into the restroom what happened. I believe in Civility!

  23. tansey thomas

    Wow! I guess I will have to get a front row seat in the Womens Restroom. No, I will not deprive a needy person of a seat. I will wait and ask the women who trail the combatants into the restroom what happened. I believe in Civility!

  24. tansey thomas

    Wow! I guess I will have to get a front row seat in the Womens Restroom. No, I will not deprive a needy person of a seat. I will wait and ask the women who trail the combatants into the restroom what happened. I believe in Civility!

  25. Deb W.

    While my story is a shocking example of how patience can wear thin, I think my point has been lost (based on the follow-up comments). Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.

  26. Deb W.

    While my story is a shocking example of how patience can wear thin, I think my point has been lost (based on the follow-up comments). Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.

  27. Deb W.

    While my story is a shocking example of how patience can wear thin, I think my point has been lost (based on the follow-up comments). Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.

  28. Deb W.

    While my story is a shocking example of how patience can wear thin, I think my point has been lost (based on the follow-up comments). Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.

  29. Joanie

    “Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.”

    I have to disagree with that assessment. There is nothing wrong with a good bathroom brawl in the ladies room. Don’t be a sissy, sista.

  30. Joanie

    “Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.”

    I have to disagree with that assessment. There is nothing wrong with a good bathroom brawl in the ladies room. Don’t be a sissy, sista.

  31. Joanie

    “Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.”

    I have to disagree with that assessment. There is nothing wrong with a good bathroom brawl in the ladies room. Don’t be a sissy, sista.

  32. Joanie

    “Again, fewer longer meetings will result in more tense discussions and possibly bathroom brawls. This is not the path that we should be taking.”

    I have to disagree with that assessment. There is nothing wrong with a good bathroom brawl in the ladies room. Don’t be a sissy, sista.

  33. 無名 - wu ming

    i guess i have a hard time caring too much about the manner in which the council functions. i do agree that the enterprise should have counted up the minutes, if just to see if the complaints were justified.

    i had always assumed they met every night. whoops.

  34. 無名 - wu ming

    i guess i have a hard time caring too much about the manner in which the council functions. i do agree that the enterprise should have counted up the minutes, if just to see if the complaints were justified.

    i had always assumed they met every night. whoops.

  35. 無名 - wu ming

    i guess i have a hard time caring too much about the manner in which the council functions. i do agree that the enterprise should have counted up the minutes, if just to see if the complaints were justified.

    i had always assumed they met every night. whoops.

  36. 無名 - wu ming

    i guess i have a hard time caring too much about the manner in which the council functions. i do agree that the enterprise should have counted up the minutes, if just to see if the complaints were justified.

    i had always assumed they met every night. whoops.

  37. Anonymous

    But if there ever are 3 women on the City Council, any bathroom brawl will be a violation of the Brown Act. Of course, with how Ruth starts nodding off after 11PM, the status of the council quorum is often in jeopardy…

  38. Anonymous

    But if there ever are 3 women on the City Council, any bathroom brawl will be a violation of the Brown Act. Of course, with how Ruth starts nodding off after 11PM, the status of the council quorum is often in jeopardy…

  39. Anonymous

    But if there ever are 3 women on the City Council, any bathroom brawl will be a violation of the Brown Act. Of course, with how Ruth starts nodding off after 11PM, the status of the council quorum is often in jeopardy…

  40. Anonymous

    But if there ever are 3 women on the City Council, any bathroom brawl will be a violation of the Brown Act. Of course, with how Ruth starts nodding off after 11PM, the status of the council quorum is often in jeopardy…

  41. Jessica

    Maybe she should have a cell phone on vibrate and when she starts falling asleep someone can call her to wake her up and remind her that she is in the middle of a council meeting.

  42. Jessica

    Maybe she should have a cell phone on vibrate and when she starts falling asleep someone can call her to wake her up and remind her that she is in the middle of a council meeting.

  43. Jessica

    Maybe she should have a cell phone on vibrate and when she starts falling asleep someone can call her to wake her up and remind her that she is in the middle of a council meeting.

  44. Jessica

    Maybe she should have a cell phone on vibrate and when she starts falling asleep someone can call her to wake her up and remind her that she is in the middle of a council meeting.

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