Councilmember Sean Paige would like to see city council meetings moved to the evening, when more citizens could conveniently attend them.
That’s an idea that gets floated every few years, and abandoned after council members actually try evening meetings.
Here’s what happened back in the 90s, when I was a proudly idealistic member of that august body, and fervently believed that nighttime was the right time.
It may well be more convenient for members of the public to attend meetings after work, but that doesn’t mean they’ll show up. It turns out that most people would rather take time off work, or re-arrange their schedules during the day, than spend long, dreary evenings at City Hall.
Evening meetings mean that senior city staff spend hours twiddling their thumbs at the meetings, waiting to answer questions or make presentations. While it may be popular to paint city employees as lazy slackers who should be made to work late into the night at the whim of their policy-making masters, it hardly makes for workplace efficiency. Sometimes department heads need to confer with lower-ranking employees to answer questions, and those folks aren’t around at night.
And unlike owls or vampires, council members don’t suddenly become energized as night falls. They get tired, inattentive, testy, and distracted as the hours go by.
At one particularly disastrous meeting, which ended after midnight, council members and the Mayor lost track of the motions on the floor, as did the City Clerk, City Manager, and the City Attorney.
It fell to a Boy Scout who was attending the meeting to set us straight. With the clear-eyed confidence of youth, he politely rose and kindly clarified the sequence of motions, amendments and what it was that we were debating.
That was our last evening meeting.
Here’s Paige’s memo to his colleagues, which he plans to present this afternoon.
We constantly hear talk about the need to make it easier and more appealing for a more diverse group of people to serve on city council, despite the excellent pay and incredible perks, yet one of the most obvious obstacles to service is the fact that we hold our council and utility board meetings during the day, when most people are working. Not only do afternoon meetings make it hard for average people to attend and participate; I believe they also serve as a deterrent to potential candidates, based on a few conversations I’ve had with people who are interested in running but don’t have a flexible-enough schedule. We all are fortunate enough to have that flexibility, but not everyone is, and we could quickly and easily remove this obstacle to participation by simply moving our meetings to evening hours beginning next year (or after the next election, if that has more appeal).
The time to consider that change is now, since it may be a factor in the minds of people weighing the possibility of running for council. More could be encouraged to take the plunge if they know now that they will be able to hold a day job while serving. Passing-off this decision to the next council will potentially close the door on a number of people who could use some clarity on this now.
A change of schedule might be inconvenient for some of us, and perhaps for city staff, and it might lead to some late night future meetings. But it would make participating and serving much more convenient for everyone else, which is why it seems like a no-brainer to me. I’ll float this proposal at Monday’s informal and wanted to give you a heads-up. I hope you’ll give this idea your serious consideration.”