CITY HALL — It was an irony lost on no one in the building. The City Council on Tuesday spent an hour — far longer than was devoted to any other item on the agenda — discussing ways to make their meetings shorter.

In the end, the council voted 4-2 to begin exploring ways to improve the meetings and make them more efficient, but decided staff reports — the presentations City Hall employees make to the council during meetings before items come to a vote — would remain part of the program.

Mayor Bobby Shriver, who suggested making changes to meeting procedures, had proposed skipping the reports at council meetings and instead requiring staff to record the presentations ahead of time so they could be viewed on CityTV or online beforehand.

“I think it’s easier to be effective and sharp when you have a shorter meeting,” Shriver said.

After several members of the public, and several council members, spoke about the importance of hearing staff reports during meetings Shriver dropped the idea from the motion he put forward.

Before the vote, Councilmember Gleam Davis said dropping staff reports from the meetings would “truncate the discussion and make [it] less transparent” for the public.

Council members for years have looked for ways to shorten meetings, which have dragged on into the early morning hours, making it difficult for residents to participate in the public process.

Council members now take a vote around 11 p.m. on whether or not to continue items on the agenda to a later date.

The vote on Tuesday means staff will return to the council at an upcoming meeting with research on possible ways to speed up the meetings and ideas for making them more engaging for the public. One suggestion to make the meetings more resident-friendly was to provide the public with an approximate timetable for when agenda items would be heard.

The proposals were part of a “council member item,” meaning they were suggested by a council member, in this case by Shriver, rather than by a City Hall staff member. Approving the item was only a first step toward making changes to meeting procedures and does not guarantee any of the proposed changes will ultimately receive a majority vote.

The split vote on whether to consider the changes was unusual because the council, by convention, generally agrees unanimously to council member items. Council members Kevin McKeown and Gleam Davis voted against the item but supported a motion that would have allowed the council to consider some of the changes in January.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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