Now let us back up into a different time and a different argument. During the spring, Mayor Sue Greenwald, in my opinion, rightly complained about the length of agendas and the lack of meetings. Councilmember Saylor went to great lengths to try to demonstrate that the council had actually met around the same number of times–if not more–than it had previously.
From the perspective of the public, all of this is troublesome. Meetings are largely inaccessible to those who have to work early in the morning or those who have family commitments and cannot stay past 11, sometimes as late as 1 a.m.
The core of my argument here is that the public elects these individuals to serve as decisionmakers on the city council. When someone agrees to both run for office and serve if elected, I think to a large extent they have agreed to be available at all times for a meeting should the need arise.
That means you only miss meetings under extreme circumstances. We have seen a number of times in the last year where a particular councilmember has missed meetings and in some cases that has meant that we have had to revisit issues.
The council should meet every Tuesday and if they do not meet every Tuesday, they should be available to meet if the need arises.
Councilmember Saylor attempted to avoid this issue by arguing that there was nothing we could do even if three of the Councilmembers were available this coming week to have an emergency meeting. That misses the point. The council needs to be available should that need arise. His response should have been–allow the City Attorney to examine the issue and if there is anything we can do, I will cancel my plans and serve the public who has elected me.
For me it is unacceptable that three of the five councilmembers can ever be out of town. What if there really is an emergency? Of course we have a city manager, but there are some things that a city manager cannot do. And that raises the question–is the city manager going to be in town or will he too leave town for vacation?
I want to raise two quick issues or head them off. This is not a criticism of Councilmember Saylor or the other two who will be out of town. This is not a political argument. I do not think people should think less of a given councilmember because they are out of town. I do not think this is a reason to hate them, criticize them, vote against them, etc. There are many other reasons to vote for or against these individuals. The issue has not been raised in this manner anyway, it is unfair to criticize them. My purpose here is not criticism but rather to raise an issue of some import.
Secondly, the issue came up the other day and someone said, well they aren’t paid that much. That is irrelevant. It does not matter if they are paid $500 per month or $200,000 per year–they are public servants. The city council needs to be available should the need arise whether it is elderly people who may be priced out of their homes or a city-wide disaster that requires immediate action.
But the other point during all the weeks that are not between Christmas and New Year’s is that the council should meet virtually every week for less time. And there are many important reasons for that, the first which I already mentioned–convenience for the public.
The second which is just important and has been raised many times by many different people, I would prefer the council or any body of lawmakers not to make crucial decisions late at night when they are fatigued. It is one thing if you have a meeting that occasionally goes past 11 pm. It is quite another thing when you are scheduling meetings that you know will do so.
The last meeting went until 1 am, and they pulled an important item off the agenda for future discussion. Actually they pulled two items if you council the campaign finance issue.
I just do not believe that is good public policy. We have talked this year about Board of Supervisor Meetings being held during the day when many people work, but if you end up holding meetings until the wee hours of the morning, it does not seem much better.
That is food for thought as we approach the end of another year.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting