CITY HALL — Newly appointed by his City Council colleagues to serve as mayor, Bobby Shriver is using at least some of his newfound clout to pursue a longtime goal: holding shorter meetings.
That’s probably not exactly how he would put it.
“I would say it’s about making the meetings more family friendly and efficient,” he said on Friday.
His proposal, which the full council will consider on Tuesday, is to “streamline the rules” at meetings by holding each council member to a fixed amount of speaking time on each item and eliminating time-consuming staff reports from the agenda.
The staff reports, which provide background information and explanations about recommended courses of action, would be exclusively available ahead of time. Instead of addressing the council, staff members would videotape their presentations beforehand so they could be viewed on CityTV or online ahead of the bi-weekly meetings.
Another of Shriver’s ideas is to publish the expected times when agenda items will be discussed, so members of the public would have a better idea when they should show up to speak about a particular topic.
“One of the things that really happens a lot is you see people come in to speak on an item and when it comes around to their item, they’ve left,” he said.
The mayor would also like City Hall staff to research practices that other cities with similar forms of government use to run council meetings and report back with suggestions for other possible changes.
Council members Bob Holbrook and Terry O’Day have endorsed looking into Shriver’s time-saving ideas, but other council members this week indicated they were skeptical about making changes.
“I would be very, very reluctant to set up a situation where at the stroke of a certain hour the dialog is cut off and were done,” said Councilman Richard Bloom. “I believe that we benefit from having a full, vibrant discussion where everybody feels like they’ve been heard.”
He said he’s not necessarily opposed to making procedural changes — during his mayoral term in 2004, Bloom said he supported the council’s decision to reduce the amount of time members of the public are allotted to speak from three minutes to two minutes — but said placing a limit on each member’s speaking time could lead to “incivility amongst council members.”
Councilman Kevin McKeown said “shortening meetings has been a goal for decades,” but added that he’d be “cautious about any actions to reduce information for the public, or to force premature conclusions on complex issues.”
“Part of our job in doing the public’s business is to help the public understand what we’re doing,” he said. “As public representatives we then must discuss our options fully, coming to the best resolution for the community as a whole.”
Shriver, who consistently casts the lone vote in favor of cutting off council meetings at 11 p.m., on Friday denied his goal for proposing new rules was to go home earlier.
Streamlining the meetings, he said, could lead to more public involvement. Many people, especially those with children at home, would like to attend council meetings but are unable to because they can’t set aside several hours to speak on a single agenda item, Shriver said. Cutting out the staff reports, he added, could open up more time for public comment and council deliberation.
Though adjourning before midnight, he admitted, could be an important side benefit.
“A seven-hour meeting is not, to me anyway, likely to be an efficient thing,” he said.
A majority of council members would have to agree Tuesday night in order to take the first step toward adopting new rules for council meeting procedures.