Theater of the Absurd: Council Wastes 20 Minutes Debating How to Save Time

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We like many aspects of this council better than the previous ones we covered, but one area that has not improved is time management and, in particular, the planning of meetings.  Last night is merely the latest incarnation of the ongoing madness when, in all great irony, the council spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how it would save time.

Three things conspired to cause the root of this problem.  First, the council had a joint meeting that went until 6:30.  Following the joint meeting they had an extended closed session that ended around 7 pm.  So they were already starting late when they discussed how to alleviate a content-heavy agenda.

The agenda was heavy for a number of reasons, but most notably the untimely vacation of Mayor Joe Krovoza.  This caused the council to cut a couple of items off the agenda a few weeks ago.  Moreover, his absence at last week’s meeting meant a number of items were stacked for this week’s meeting.

As Councilmember Sue Greenwald rightly pointed out, it is unreasonable to expect the councilmembers to routinely weigh in for seven straight hours on complicated matters that require good discussion and reasonable attentiveness.

The biggest problem is the failure to properly manage how time is utilized and more important to separate issues so that that the council is not weighing in on multiple time-consuming items in a given night.

We have presented these ideas before, there has been some agreement with them, however changes are never made.

First, do not have joint meetings the same night as regular council meetings.  I am not a particular fan of joint meetings as it is, but I fail to see the need to put them in front of a regular agenda.  Moreover, why start a meeting early when it is more difficult for the public to attend and weigh in?

Second, this was not a problem last night, but it is frequently.  Separate presentations from regular agenda nights.  I have suggested that we have one night a month for council presentations and that the council should turn it into a community event with monthly local business sponsors and an opportunity for local restaurants to supply the food and reach out into the community.

A two-hour fun event once a month would enable more time to be spent on the recognition without the pressure of an impending five-hour council meeting weighing on members minds.

Third, there are surprises for sure, but generally the council and city know which items will take the most time.  The council should limit these lengthy items to no more than one or, at the very most, two on a given night.

That means the council will have to meet every week, but it also means they can leave earlier.

An occasional long meeting cannot be helped, particularly when there is much public comment.  These plans will enable the council to focus their energies on key items, allow the public to weigh in when they need to, and take out unnecessary uses of time.

But most of all it prevents the wasting of twenty minutes of time trying to figure out how best to save time.  That helps no one and creates only more delays and hardship for those seeking to attend and participate in public meetings.

The key word in “public meetings” is public.  Making the public and staff wait around for hours is not conducive to public participation in local government.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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8 Comments

  1. tyghestorm

    Yes..it’s true,after 42 years in Davis I have come to a conclusion. The Davis city council could always complicate things..think..bm. TS

  2. E Roberts Musser

    FYI, it was Dan Wolk who was the first last night to note there were too many lengthy and meaty items on the agenda, and asked that the Council think about how to alleviate this problem in the future. The Vanguard has made some good suggestions:
    1) Proclamations should occur on a night singled out for just that; joint meetings should take place on nights other than City Council regular meeting Tuesday nights.
    2) The City Council can meet once a week when City Council agendas become too full.
    3) It is incumbent on City Council members to try and get questions to city staff answered prior to coming to City Council meetings. It was clear Steve Souza was making an effort to do just that.
    4) City staff needs to make sure they get information to the City Council in a timely fashion. Last minute information given at the dais is not helpful and bogs down the process.
    5) Have no more than two meaty items on any one agenda.

  3. Sue Greenwald

    E. Roberts Musser: Although I didn’t keep saying “I already asked my questions” the way Stephen did, I in fact launched straight into discussion because I had already asked my questions. This council is nothing like the last council with the interminable “questions”.

    One of the problems is that council is forced to make unpleasant choices due to the budget. This will always take more time. I expect Council will also be flounder a bit trying satisfy citizens while making cuts.

  4. JustSaying

    [quote]“4) City staff needs to make sure they get information to the City Council in a timely fashion.” [/quote] Good point. Seems like the Council has become too tolerant of staff providing packets and supporting materials too late to allow for careful reading, study and research before the meetings. An occasional late document submitted during a meeting seems reasonable to assure council members have corrected or updated info.

    Council members aren’t the only ones who suffer (long meetings, decisions they regret later) when council packets aren’t available well before scheduled meetings. Interested citizens would benefit as well with more time to understand what’s going on and to decide whether to communicate with the council.

    It also seems that quite a few items show up on the agenda with a need for fairly instant action. Wouldn’t it be better to take up things sooner, allowing for final action at later meeting if more consideration is needed.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]E. Roberts Musser: Although I didn’t keep saying “I already asked my questions” the way Stephen did, I in fact launched straight into discussion because I had already asked my questions. This council is nothing like the last council with the interminable “questions”. [/quote]

    My observation has been that this City Council is much more prepared than the previous City Council Gang of Three. The very fact that Souza is making a point of asking questions prior to CC meetings is a good thing and a refreshing change. Every current Council member seems much better prepared (with the exception of Sue Greenwald, who was ALWAYS PREPARED 🙂 ) and ready to launch into thoughtful discussion. There doesn’t seem to be endless politicking (sp?) from the dais either as there was before by the Gang of Three. I also don’t get the feeling the City Council members have necessarily made up their minds or there has been behind the scenes machinations going on as there has been in the past with the Gang of Three.

    Another huge plus I noted in my mind as an afterthought is the new “rule” that City Council meetings shall not go beyond 11:30 pm. This is a wonderful improvement. It has also resulted in the agenda not being “gamed” as it was with the Gang of Three – where controversial items were slated for very last item on the agenda, to be taken up at 1 am in the morning, after the public had long ago left to go to bed. I know one time I waited until midnight, and still the item I was interested in speaking on had not been taken up. I started not feeling well, and was forced to leave, w/o being able to comment publicly.

    Also, the City Council members themselves get pretty punchy at midnight – Mayor Asmundson often had to be reminded to take public comment that late at night – altho she was very gracious about correcting the omission. But the fact of the matter is, no Council member is going to be at their best trying to make decisions at 1 am in the morning – and the public is just too tired to stick around that long to comment on issues.

    All this is by way of saying things have vastly improved… but still agendas are just too long/jam packed. There needs to be some tweaking to try and keep agendas to a more reasonable length, as Dan Wolk so wisely suggested…

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