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January 9, 2018 > Editorial: Tick Tock

Editorial: Tick Tock

The clock has struck midnight to usher in a new year and this week, council meetings begin to meet again. It is a good time to reflect on time management at these meetings as councilmembers, staff, attendees and internet/television observers prepare to tackle issues - routine and extraordinary. Thorough analysis and discussion is expected from staff and councilmembers even when public scrutiny is sporadic at best. While some items bring extensive debate and notice, others that may be just as important for the well-being of government, escape public comment. In either case, effective use of time at council meetings can spell the difference between quality examination or weary and fatigued decisions.

In each jurisdiction, guidance by a mayor, board president or other principal official can manage efforts so they are succinct and effective with minimal sacrifice to substance. On occasion, agendas are overloaded with items that demand extensive debate or inordinate time commitments to presentation and following discussion. Some of this may be unavoidable, but in other cases, long hours lead to expedited decisions ruled more by the clock and fatigue than sound reasoning. At the beginning of a new year, it may be time to address the allocation of time to agenda items. In the case of work sessions and controversial items requiring extensive debate, alternative dates and times may provide some relief. Should council/board meetings that limit time for public comment also impose limitations of council/board comments as well?

Meetings that drone on for hours with unhelpful rhetoric can detract from the primary function of open and public meetings. If the public is unable to stay awake or follow discourse, mired in elaborate and political posturing, the purpose is lost. It may be that in some instances, additional meetings should be scheduled to allow adequate time for energetic and purposeful discussion. In other cases, strict time management may be in order. After all, when time is wasted, it not only affects public attention, but costs staff time and council/board energy but can result in poor decisions as well. In the past, as the hours have moved by, comments by councilmembers have indicated inadequate comprehension needing clarification of exactly what was in a motion. This type of question can be indicative of a process that has strayed too far from its original goal.

Evening meetings that routinely extend to late hours should be subject to scrutiny and evaluation. Elected officials, staff and the public are usually spending time in such meetings after hours of daytime work and effort. The clock may be wound up to tick off minutes and hours no matter what the time of day or night, but the rest of us have limits. It pays to make quality decisions with clear minds. There is a balance between rapidity and diligence. Can each deliberative body find it?

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