Commentary: Another Late Night For Council

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The council managed to get through a full agenda at their meeting last night.  The unfortunate thing for the public is that it ended around 12:30 midnight.  One of the chief complaints of the citizenry is that meetings go on too late.

This is problematic from our perspective, because it means that the public is unable to participate if they have to get up early for work or if they have young families.  Moreover, it probably impacts the ability of the council to give careful attention and reflection.

 

 

Back in February, newly-installed executive Davis Chamber of Commerce Director Kemble Pope proposed having the council meet only twice per month and adjourn no later than 11 pm.

The Vanguard has proposed a version of that which would be to hold meetings every week and only have one major item for consideration per meeting.  We are concerned that, given the council’s plate, it would be difficult for the council to appropriately discuss all items on the agenda by 11 pm if they continue to meet twice a month.

Of the current members of council, only Councilmember Dan Wolk has supported any kind of motion for earlier meeting endings.

Last fall the council ran their critical water meeting until 3:30.

What made the September 6 meeting all the worse is that council knew that the water issue had brought out 50 to 75 people, they knew that people would make public comments, and they knew that process alone would take two to three hours.

And yet they scheduled three items before the water item.  That included two appeals of Planning Commission rulings.  The lengthy one was a home on Oceano Way in which the owner was attempting to expand from five to six bedrooms.  It was an issue obviously important to the owner and some of their neighbors, but in the scheme of things, if it impacted the lives of 100 people that would be a high figure.

Nevertheless, the council spent over an hour on that item, as many neighbors came forward to offer their opinions.  So while 50 to 75 people waited and many more waited at home, the owners who did not even make the meeting got a hearing on their issue.

More recently the issue of Crown Castle had lengthy public comment, and the micromanaging of tower locations by council monopolized three council meetings worth of time.

Last night it was simply stacking far too many items on a single agenda that contributed to that problem, but that was exacerbated because the council has often not had time to hear all items, and so, for instance, the Parks Masterplan Item on the agenda last night took several hours for discussion but it had been pushed back at least two from previous agendas that were too heavily stacked.

This was made worse by the fact that the council had its joint meeting with the Tree Commission run over, and they had a number of presentations that took up time, as well.

As I suggested last fall when this issue came up, there are several ways to deal with these issues.

First, do not have presentations in regular council meetings.  I think they can be on a Thursday night, picking a date with no school board meeting. Once a month, they could have their presentations and awards, and have Davis businesses come in and sponsor the meeting and provide refreshments afterwards.  That would prevent the use of 30 to 60 minutes of prime time for presentations.

Second, anticipate items that will bring in large groups of people.  You cannot always do that.  I understand.  But it was obvious that Crown Castle would bring out people.  It is obvious that issues involving water or development will bring up issues.

Third, the council has gotten better at this, but they need to adjust the schedule to deal with the public demand.

Fourth, the council needs a hard rule that, unless deadlines are upon them, only one major item per night.  We have seen budget hearings that followed hearings on ConAgra, water that followed other lengthy discussions.

Unfortunately despite all of this, I have not seen the council make critical adjustments.  We still have them with open Tuesdays.  A number of these late night meetings would be shortened if the council had simply been able to spread the items out over more weeks.

The notion that staff needs to prepare is ludicrous. What they are essentially doing is cramming two meetings into one, but they could separate the weeks without overburdening staff.

What has become obvious is that the council is not wanting to fix this.  The Vanguard proposes the following: (1) no item starts after 11 pm., and  (2) no discussion continues on any item after midnight.

The Vanguard is considering possibly putting this matter to citizens for a vote if the council is unwilling to make these changes.  We put the one hour time distance between when the last item can start and the item must finish because we are not going to allow for the council to vote to waive the rule.  The simple reason is that the council currently has such a rule and if they simply waive it every single time –  what is the point of having the rule?  The hour gives a bit of flexibility, but it may be for urgent matters they have to take it up again the next day.

—David M. Greenwald 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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15 thoughts on “Commentary: Another Late Night For Council”

  1. JustSaying

    Maybe we could have a menu of public vote issues on one ballot–council meeting micromanagement, paper bag onerousness, fireplace factionalism, etc.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The Vanguard has proposed a version of that which would be to hold meetings every week and only have one major item for consideration per meeting. We are concerned that, given the council’s plate, it would be difficult for the council to appropriately discuss all items on the agenda by 11 pm if they continue to meet twice a month.[/quote]

    Spot on! Once a week meetings would seem to me a necessity. Then everyone could get out of there by 11 pm or earlier. I had to stay last night until well past midnight to listen to the Wastewater treatment plant issue. City Staffer Michael Lindquist did an outstanding job with the presentation at such a late hour. It certainly held my attention, and seemed to perk up the City Council. But it was frustrating to have such a meaty issue being decided at such a late hour. However, the Parks Master Plan was also a meaty issue, and long overdue.

  3. Frankly

    [i]”The unfortunate thing for the public is that it ended around 12:30 midnight.”[/i]

    No wonder we have so much project mismanagement and decision-making dysfunction… the council is driving while sleepy.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The Vanguard is considering possibly putting this matter to citizens for a vote if the council is unwilling to make these changes. We put the one hour time distance between when the last item can start and the item must finish because we are not going to allow for the council to vote to waive the rule. The simply reason is that the council currently has such a rule and they simple waive it every single time – so what is the point of having the rule. The hour gives a bit of flexibility, but it may be for urgent matters they have to take it up again the next day.[/quote]

    I have no idea what you are talking about here ( which could be a result of last night’s late hour before I got out of the CC meeting!!!). Could you please explain…

  5. Mark West

    City Council meetings go on too long because many of the current and past Council members are/were too fond of the sound of their own voices. Discussions are long winded, repetitive, and rarely change anyone’s vote.

    A better way to shorten the meetings is to have the information on all agenda items posted 5-7 days in advance with all supporting documents, staff reports and recommendations. The City Manager should then start a blog where each agenda item is listed separately and encourage citizens to offer their comments and concerns in advance of the meeting. As we see here on the Vanguard, this could provide a viable forum for discussions, especially if City staff answered questions raised during the discussions. As with public comment at the Council meetings, anyone wanting to comment would have to use their name. Those who what to whine anonymously would have to resort to posting elsewhere.

    Depending on how committed the City Manager and City Council are to the project, this could provide a much better forum for solving the City’s problems then the City Council meetings ever could. Citizens would be heard, staff would be able to answer questions in advance, and Council would have time to actually consider all of the issues prior to the meetings. This would not replace the public meeting, nor public comment, but could certainly augment it in a very productive way, and as a consequence, shorten the actual meeting.

  6. Matt Williams

    If one looks at last night’s calendar, one has to wonder how to pare down the time consumed by all the portions of the agenda that precede the Consent Calendar. I wasn’t there at the beginning of the evening last night, but I’d be very surprised if the Consent Calendar item actually started at 7:35.

    AGENDA

    Item 6Consent Calendar 7:35
    A.110 F Street (Hallmark Inn) Encroachment Easement Agreement (Community Development & Sustainability Director Ken Hiatt)
    B. City Investments-Local Agency Investment Fund (LAIF) and California Asset Management Program (CAMP) (Assistant City Manager Paul Navazio/Accountant Pamela Day)
    C.Amendment to the Davis Municipal Code Relating to the City Manager’s Authority to Award Contracts and the City Engineer’s Authority to Approve Plans and Designs for Public Works Projects (City Attorney Harriet Steiner)
    D.Traffic Safety Improvements at Russell Boulevard /Lake Boulevard Intersection (Interim Public Works Director Robert Clarke/Senior Civil Engineer Roxanne Namazi)
    E.City Hall HVAC Replacement Project, CIP No. 8215 (Interim Public Works Director Robert Clarke/Interim Principal Civil Engineer Michael Mitchell)
    F.City Council Minutes from the Meetings of June 21, July 5, September 6 and November 15, 2011 (City Clerk Zoe Mirabile)
    G.Commission/Committee Minutes (informational only): 1.Bicycle Advisory Commission Meeting of March 5, 2012 2. Human Relations Commission Meetings of December 15, 2011 and January 26, 2012 3.Water Advisory Committee Meeting of March 8, 2012 4.Woodland Davis Clean Water Agency JPA Meeting of January 19, 2012

    7:40 Item 7 Presentation: Update on City Hall Reorganization (City Manager Steve Pinkerton)

    Regular Calendar
    7:50Item 8 Public Hearing:

    2012-13 Funding Decisions for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Housing Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) (Housing & Human Services Superintendent Danielle Foster/Administrative Analyst Mike Goodison)

    2012 Update of Citizen Participation Plan for HUD Federal Grant Programs (Housing & Human Services Superintendent Danielle Foster/ Administrative Analyst Mike Goodison)

    8:20 Item 9 Parks and Facilities Master Plan and Recommended 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (Community Development & Sustainability Director Ken Hiatt/Community Services Director Elvia Garcia-Ayala/Property Management Coordinator Anne Brunette)

    9:20 Item 10 Planning Application #11-14: Pre-application #2-11 – Seeking Council Input on a Replacement Project Concept for 225/229 B Street (Community Development & Sustainability Director Ken Hiatt/Principal Planner Michael Webb)

    10:05 Item 11 Wastewater Capital Improvement Project (CIP No. 8219) – Professional Service Agreement for City Representative Services (Interim Public Works Director Robert Clarke/ Senior Engineer Michael Lindquist/Wastewater Superintendent Stan Gryczko)

    10:35 Item 12 City Council Appointments to Advisory Commissions Recommendation:

    10:40 Item 13 City Council Long Range Calendar.

    ??:-?? Item 14 Continued Public Hearing: Crown Castle Distributed Antenna System (-)AS) Wireless/Cellular Services Infrastructure Network; Planning Application #52-10, Conditional Use Permit #10-10, Zoning Ordinance Amendment #1-10, Appeal #1-12 (Community Development & Sustainability Director Ken Hiatt/Principal Planner Michael Webb)

    Adjournment

  7. Brett

    I do not believe that the current CC meetings are run as effectively and efficiently as they should be.

    I have spoken with a couple of my fellow candidates and we are in agreement that we would like to improve the way council meetings are handled.

    The solution is not to simply add more council meetings. The inefficient way the meetings are currently run, would simply mean that we have even more meetings that are inefficient.

    Here are some thoughts:

    I do believe that there should be a hard stop at 11:30pm for meetings.

    I believe that council awards and recognition could be moved to a once monthly meeting. These are important functions for our community and mean quite a lot to those receiving awards, but they could be handled on a separate occasion that would allow the council members to attend without having to do a huge amount of pre-meeting prep work.

    I believe that public comment is important, but currently the way it is handled does not allow the public comment to be used in a meaningful way. If the council is voting on item A and 5 minutes before the council gets ready to vote, citizen1 shows up and says “I have a better idea, lets try doing X instead”, the council has a difficult decision – do they stop the planned vote to check and see if what citizen1 says is correct and does represent a better way? Or do they go on ahead with the vote?

    If we schedule a public comment period sufficiently in advance of the vote, (perhaps 3-5 days in advance) the ideas brought forward by the public can be evaluated by staff before the vote. In this way, we will be making better use of the ideas brought forward by the public.

    Public comment is an opportunity for the council; it should not be treated as a chore. The people addressing the council do so because they believe what they have to say is important and meaningful; and more often than not, it is.

    I do not believe that there should be time limits on council persons asking questions of staff or of outside experts. However, I believe that there should be reasonable time limits on the length of time council members may use to address each other or the public. If the US Congress can live with time limits on their speeches while in session, I think for the sake of all concerned, council members can too. All council members care about the community, all council members care about the issue before them, and yes all council members are smart. We do not need each council member to spend 5 minutes before and after every vote reminding us of these three facts.

    Based upon where we are today, each council person could have 45 minutes of “talk” time allowance. I can imagine over time, as meetings are run more efficiently, that number could be reduced. And, should a council person really need extra time, I am sure a colleague could give them some of their time to use.

    In short, we must change the mechanics of the meetings before we even think about expanding the number of meetings. Additional meetings may be necessary, but first we need to fix the structure.

  8. Michael Harrington

    I think mayor Joe’s running of the meetings has been impressive the few times I have been down for water issues

    I’m sure the CC can and will make them even better with the input from David, Brett and others

  9. concernedcitizen

    Here’s a thought… how bout the city council consider moving into the 21st century and start using some technology to provide different platforms for resident input. I’m in the “parent with young children” category, and I can’t make those late meetings. Besides that, I go to enough meetings as it is (as I’m sure we all do).

    I think we should “mandate” that every council member subscribe to the mashable.com feed and educate themselves on the countless options available to engage people. If we could just get ONE tech savvy person on council (or staff), the city would be well served. Not only would they do a better, more efficient job engaging those already attending the meetings, but also start engaging the demographics that are conspicuously absent.

    What’s needed is a [i]paradigm shift[/i], not just reworking the outdated mode of public engagement.

  10. concernedcitizen

    Let me just add, IF the council utilized technology to garner input from the public (i.e.-public comment), they could reflect on it at times that work for their schedule AND follow-up with the individual(s) if they feel so moved.

    A very simple and [i]free[/i] step that could be taken is to provide a platform for people to post a short video (their public comment). Council members could then watch those when they want, have time to reflect/process the input, and then follow-up if they wanted. That’s like 2006 technology, so it shouldn’t been that difficult to implement.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    Brett has made some excellent suggestions, as have concerned citizen and Mark West. Dmg has covered this issue very well on numerous occasions. I hope the City Council is paying attention. Meetings running into the wee hours of the morning does not make for good decisions, cuts down on public participation, and is very hard on city staff.

  12. Matt Williams

    In looking at how Tuesday night went, it appears to be a combination of two factors, too many agenda items and in some cases not enough time budgeted for individual agenda items. When you look at what was covered in the evening, each item has sufficient merit to be on the agenda. Spreading the seven hour elapsed time out over two weekly meetings would have meant that each meeting still would have gone from 6:30 until 10:00. Is Council prepared to have a 3 and 1/2 hour meeting every week?

    Tuesday’s Item times:

    Closed Session from 5:30 – 6:10 (budgeted for 30 minutes)
    Tree Commission from 6:10 – 6:45 (budgeted for 30 minutes)
    Recess from 6:45 – 6:51
    Ceremonial Presentations 6:51 – 7:17
    Reception 7:17 – 7:39
    Communications 7:39 – 7:41
    Public Comment 7:41 – 7:44
    Consent Calendar 7:44 – 7:59
    Reorganization of City Hall 7:59 – 8:05
    CDBG Block Grant 8:05 – 8:28 (budgeted for 30 minutes)
    Planning Application #11-14 8:28 – 9:34 (budgeted for 40 minutes)
    Recess 9:34 – 9:51
    City Council Appointments to Advisory Commissions 9:51 – 10:00
    Parks and Facilities Master Plan 10:03 – 11:10 (budgeted for 60 minutes)
    Wastewater Capital Improvement Project (CIP No. 8219) – Professional Service Agreement for City Representative Services 11:10 – 12:15 (budgeted for 30 minutes)

  13. Matt Williams

    BTW, Tuesday was really a very light Public Comment night. If the public had shown up to talk about any item in any kind of numbers, the elapsed time could have gone closer to 8 hours.

  14. Sue Greenwald

    [quote]I believe that public comment is important, but currently the way it is handled does not allow the public comment to be used in a meaningful way. If the council is voting on item A and 5 minutes before the council gets ready to vote, citizen1 shows up and says “I have a better idea, lets try doing X instead”, the council has a difficult decision – do they stop the planned vote to check and see if what citizen1 says is correct and does represent a better way? Or do they go on ahead with the vote?–[b]Brett Lee [/b][/quote]I have read this passage over a few times and I don’t really understand it. [quote]If we schedule a public comment period sufficiently in advance of the vote, (perhaps 3-5 days in advance) the ideas brought forward by the public can be evaluated by staff before the vote. In this way, we will be making better use of the ideas brought forward by the public.-[b]-Brett Lee[/b][/quote]People can and do e-mail us 3 to 5 days in advance, and that allows us to think about the issues and to have a little back and forth with the writer. I think the important issue here is to make sure the agenda and all staff reports are actually posted that far and advance. Between the Vanguard and the Enterprise and the posted agendas citizens have the ability to learn about issues and to e-mail councilmembers.

    I have been thinking that it might be a good idea to have a sign-up list so that interested citizens can have a simplified agenda mailed to them that merely lists the substantive items before the council in an easy to read fashion, with links to the the staff report. This would make it easy for citizens to scan the substantive items and just click the link if they are interested.

    I don’t think it makes sense to hold a publicly noticed meeting three to five days in advance just to hear public comment. That would be costly in terms of staff time and set-up. People can read the staff reports and e-mail us. The reason to come down instead of e-mailing is that the public can hear the staff report and often hear the council questions as well before they speak. Then they can sit in the audience and thereby exert public pressure and accountability on our votes. I don’t think reinventing the wheel is going to work on this one.

    The mayor sets the agenda with the city manager. I used to be quite firm with Bill Emlen about removing items when he brought forward overloaded agendas, which was most of the time. That said, rather lengthy meetings are a function of an educated community and an educated council. Meetings are long in Berkeley as well, and over the years I have noticed that challengers who criticize incumbents for the length of the meetings are invariably as long-winded as the rest once elected. I agree that meetings should end by 11 or 11:30, and that once a week meetings are probably inevitable.

    One way to help assure that meetings don’t run too long is to avoid unnecessary bureaucratic tasks. For example, many new councils call for a new general plan. Actually, our general plan is quite modern and there is no reason to redo it. We can much more easily just update sections if desired. Nothing takes more council time than rewriting a general plan.

  15. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]…substantive items before the council in an easy to read fashion, with links to the the staff report… [/quote]

    This is another excellent idea…

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