Regarding your Aug. 28 article, “’Round midnight,” on the length of city council meetings, I sat on the Morro Bay City Council for 14 years, the last six as mayor, and in all that time we seldom went past 11 p.m.—or if we did, it was only for 10 minutes or so to finish an ongoing discussion item.
Not only is it unfair to people who wanted to comment on an issue but gave up and went home, it’s also unfair to the staff, who have to be at their desks at 8 a.m. the following morning (let alone the costs of those on hourly retainers!). Equally important is the fact that it’s very difficult to have logical discussions and make good decisions six hours into a meeting, when everyone is tired—especially those councilmembers who have full-time jobs.
For Mayor Irons to blame the staff reports is disingenuous. The staff creates their reports based on city standards and policies and the direction of the council. If a councilmember is unclear about a report, it is the councilmember’s responsibility to meet with staff and discuss it before the council meeting. If they then feel there is something in the staff report that should be clarified or given more detail, they can either explain that themselves at the meeting or ask staff to do so.
The mayor’s job is to run the meeting. I always set estimated times for each agenda item, told the council in advance how much time we had to cover an item, and asked the councilmembers themselves to limit their comments accordingly. This eliminated much of the repetitiveness Councilmember Nancy Johnson mentioned. If we were going over the estimated time on an issue, I’d either ask for a decision, bring the matter back later in the meeting if time allowed, or, if possible, continue it to another date.
Public input is valuable, but there are ways to limit the time taken to receive it. On controversial issues, speaker slips can be issued and speaking time limited based on the number of speakers. It also proved very effective to encourage people who agreed with speakers to raise their hands, so not everyone has to get up and repeat the same thing, but the number of supporters is very obvious to the council.
I take issue with Professor Michael Latner’s contention that council decisions are made before any public comment is offered. While I always studied the materials and spoke with staff and constituents beforehand, I never completely made up my mind on issues until after weighing both public comments and those of my fellow councilmembers. Ironically, I was sometimes criticized for changing my initial thoughts on an issue because of the subsequent discussion—damned if you do and damned if you don’t!
Council meetings can be productive and of reasonable length if the mayor does his/her homework and keeps control of the proceedings, as indicated by Mayor Picanco and others. Mayor Irons had no council experience before his election, so hopefully in his second term he will develop his own process for shorter and more efficient meetings, to the benefit of all of us.
-- Janice Peters - Morro Bay