CITY HALL — The next time the City Council convenes, members will be under an extra bit of pressure to get to the point.

With the goal of shortening its twice monthly sessions, the council on Tuesday approved a handful of changes to meeting procedures. Among them: the use of digital timers that will measure how long each member speaks.

The council adopted the changes after Mayor Bobby Shriver earlier this year suggested the council look into ways to shorten meetings, which occasionally run until midnight or later.

Beginning with the Sept. 28 meeting, every time a council member turns on his or her microphone, a digital clock will start running; there won’t be a time limit, but — the thinking goes — just seeing the minutes pile up will encourage even the most eloquent orator to wrap it up.

It’s “another tool to raise awareness of the length of time spent on an item,” as a City Hall report on the changes put it.

The digital timers will only be visible to speakers — not to members of the public — so councilmembers will have to police themselves for the new procedure to have a noticeable effect.

The council also agreed to start meetings 15 minutes earlier, at 5:30 p.m., and to discontinue the practice of allowing “special needs” members of the public to comment on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting. Instead, those who are unable to wait until an item is called will be asked to submit their comments in written form so they can be photocopied and distributed to council members. A City Clerk employee will be on hand during meetings to assist with writing out comments.

Members of the council said the change would enable the public portion of meetings to begin at approximately 6:30 p.m. each week, instead of at 7 p.m. or later.

In another change, the council decided to immediately go into closed session after convening the meeting at 5:30 p.m., rather than first calling items listed on the consent calendar. Those items, which are typically routine business items that receive little or no public discussion, will now be called once the council reconvenes from closed session.

The council also set an official goal that staff reports on agenda items be limited to five minutes or less and agreed to consider holding additional single-topic meetings when needed to limit the length of regularly scheduled council sessions.

The changes passed by a 4-2 vote, with Councilwoman Gleam Davis and Councilman Richard Bloom dissenting. Davis said she was uncomfortable with the change to accommodations for “special needs” speakers, and Bloom said he believed the council should reach a full consensus regarding any changes to meeting procedures. Councilman Terry O’Day did not attend the meeting.

The council nixed one proposed change to meeting procedures, a staff recommendation to occasionally form subcommittees of no more than three council members to address items before they come before the full council.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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