The meeting time blues

(The latest in a series of posts on City government)

The City has a whole bunch of Authorities, Boards, Commissions, and Committees at which your business is done.

They meet at various times Monday through Thursday from 3:30 to 7PM.

No meeting time is perfect, of course.

And you realize that when there is a meeting that you want or you have to attend.

And it’s at a time when you work.

Lots of people have trouble attending the 3:30, 4, and 4:30 meetings because of work.

Diane Backus movingly complained about this at the important Planning Commission meeting on the Martin Tower site plan two months or so ago. Councilwoman Van Wirt complained also at that meeting and again at City Council. Both to good effect, since Gadfly reported that the Mayor had directed the ABCs in a May 6 memo to move meetings to the evening.

Here’s an example of the problem with meetings that start in the afternoon.

At the routine 4PM Planning Commission meeting yesterday afternoon, a resident objecting to a development proposal said he had emails from 9 neighbors — also objectors — who could not attend the meeting because of the time, and thus that the PC was hearing only a “tiny fraction of the neighborhood’s concern about the project.”

The PC did not rule in favor of the objectors at the meeting. One wonders if there would have been a different decision if 9 additional neighbors were present and registered their objections personally.

But it sounded as if the Mayor was mandating change in the meeting times to alleviate such resident time conflicts.

Well, not so, apparently — the Community Revitalization and Improvement Zone Board  (CRIZ) read the Mayor’s memo as a request to “consider” a meeting time change “to make it more convenient for the public to attend.” They did so “consider” the Mayor’s request at their June 5 meeting and decided not to change the time.

The negative discussion went like this: since meetings tend to involve more staffers than the public, the afternoon time is more “thoughtful” of staffer’s time; “not a lot of sense to move ordinary business meetings to 6 or 7 o’clock” when we have the ability to use special meetings when there are matters of more public interest; there haven’t been that many meeting where the public have attended, and we could hold meetings later if we thought the public wanted to come — so “keep the time where it is and move it when necessary”; change would mean getting other groups together to schedule the meeting room they all share; early in the morning may be better for merchants than 6-7PM; is dinner going to be served?

So be it.

But this one demurrer certainly caught Gadfly’s attention and should catch yours: “with family lives and two active teenagers, evenings can become more difficult to attend.”

Paraphrase: changing the time to make it more convenient for the public to attend meetings would interfere with my personal life.

Gadfly hopes that line is remembered when that Board member comes up for reappointment.

3 thoughts on “The meeting time blues

  1. 1. Convenience for ‘staffers’, who are paid to be there, at the expense of the public‽ Not surprising for the CRIZ board though, since their actions indicate that they have never really had the public interest at heart. All ABCs have to allow any time change to register—this could easily take a year after they start a campaign to make people aware of their issues.

    2. Any board, whether they are considering evening meetings or already meet then, must realize that they need to couple that with making sure the public is aware of the issues to be considered—and their potential impacts, not just an arcane title. (Unless the board considers its actions unimportant, they should make clear the importance of what they are doing.)

    3. The city should find a way to publicize the date, time, & location of every meeting as well as an annotated agenda that notes all the potential impacts. (On an easy-to-find page on the city website would be a good start. In CA, for example, every issue on the ballot gets an unbiased analysis from a legislative analyst, showing both the pros & cons; before the election, these are sent to everyone as part of the sample ballot.

    I suppose all these changes will cost some money, but that’s just the cost of real democracy.

  2. That CRIZ boardmember’s reappointment should never see the light of day! They forget whom they serve, and apparently feel it’s themselves. It has nothing to do with their own convenience or city staff’s convenience. Sometimes I wonder who the heck some of these people think they are. 

  3. Dear Gadfly, on top of this discussion, there is also the fact that the water authority and the planning commission meet at almost the same time, the Bethlehem Authority at 3:30 on the second Thursday, and the Planning Commission at 4:00 the same day. This is another way to reduce attendance. I spoke on this 15 years ago, with no effect.   Bill Scheirer

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