The Meeting time conundrum

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

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

They meet at various times Monday through Thursday from 3:00 to 7PM.

Specific attention has been focused on those ABCs that meet late afternoon from 3-4, during a time in which many people work: for instance, Planning Commission, Water Authority,  Historical and Architectural Review Board, Redevelopment Authority, Parking Authority, and the Bethlehem Revitalization & Improvement Authority.

A time-period limiting attendance by the public, many of whom work during that time.

Now most of the meetings of these groups are routine, and public attendance is sparse or non-existent.

But sometimes, of course, there are “hot” items that the public not only wants to witness but to participate in. And that is difficult or impossible for many people when the meeting is early.

Responding to urgent suggestions by some residents and Councilwoman Van Wirt that no meetings should start before 5PM, the Mayor asked those early-meeting ABCs to consider moving their start times for 2020 (meetings dates are set and advertised for the entire year). The Mayor also suggested that the meetings be live-streamed just as City Council meetings are now.

Gadfly previously reported how the Mayor’s request for changing the meeting time gave BRIA the “meeting time blues.”

The Mayor’s request was discussed by the Planning Commission on Thursday, and unresolved since two members were absent, but the general points of issue with the Mayor’s request are clear and uniform.

Here is a recording of the discussion of the Mayor’s request at Thursday’s PC.

The general discussion on the Mayor’s request has been basically the same across the three meetings that Gadfly has attended .

  • The most prominent objection to changing the meeting time to a later hour is concern for city staff members, who have “families to get home to” and for whom it will be a “long day.” But City staff members do now attend other meetings that start in the evening. And if this is a problem, Gadfly wonders if “comp time” for City staffers would be a reasonable solution.
  • Live-streaming (and subsequent archiving for later review) has been offered as meeting the goal of transparency without changing the meeting time. But video access to the meetings does not enable the public to participate, to interact at the meeting. Gadfly does not see live-streaming as meeting the goals of the Mayor’s request.
  • Keeping the early hours as scheduled but moving meetings with “hot” agenda items to later hours on an ad hoc basis has been offered as another option. Some ABCs have done this. But it is not always possible to recognize a “hot” topic beforehand. And a topic may be “hot” only for one individual or group of individuals rather than the wider public. And they may be unfairly shut out.
  • There is some restiveness among ABC members themselves about facing later hours because of their own family or personal situations, but all agree to be flexible if a decision is made to change the meeting time.
  • There has been a question of logistics: can all the ABC meetings be scheduled at 5, 6, or 7 in the limited meeting space and without some meeting at the same time? Not a trivial concern. To be determined by City Hall bureaucracy.
  • The City representatives at the ABCs have fairly represented the Mayor’s request, its origin, and its goal. Which is good.

Followers might remember that Gadfly’s post on the BRIA discussion contained one troublesome member comment.

There was one at the PC too: “I think if the public has a true commitment to voicing their opinion, in most cases if I was the public trying to come to a meeting because I was concerned about something, I would somehow get myself there at 4 o’clock. There might be a small percentage of people who can’t leave work to get here at 4 o’clock, but I think the numbers may be small. And I think the people who are committed to making their voices known have come to those meetings at 4 o’clock.”

Gadfly gathers that the Mayor has ultimately left the meeting time change for the early ABCs up to them.

That may be too soft an approach.

Given resolution of the logistics, the Mayor might need to mandate this change to no meetings before 5PM in order to achieve the important goal of transparency as well as enhancing the means of public participation.


One thought on “The Meeting time conundrum

  1. I think this is an important topic, but let’s remember that while many people work a daytime schedule, there are also many who work evenings or nights. I don’t know what will work best, but let’s not automatically exclude them from participation.

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