May 15, 2018 > Editorial: Consent Calendar? Boring?
Editorial: Consent Calendar? Boring?
At public meetings, the mundane consent calendar is often overlooked due to its lack of excitement and attention, but that doesn?t mean such items are unimportant. Often discounted due to its routine appearance on meeting agendas, the consent calendar is by definition, items that are voted on as a block unless one or more are removed by someone (board/council member, staff or public) requesting a closer review and discussion. Many thousands of dollars are spent within this category and it is easy to overlook the importance of these significant and often highly prized contracts. Maintenance of buildings, roads, and facilities are included in this approval process and should be scrutinized by the public. Most often, there is no subterfuge or nefarious, hidden purpose in this flurry of housekeeping items, but those involved in the process of awarding contracts and doing business with public entities pay close attention? so should you.
In the hit television series, The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon?s consternation with red warning light in Penny?s car is for naught since it apparently had been seeking attention for quite a while with no response. For several episodes, the illuminated check engine light is mentioned with no action to at least discover why it is on. Finally, the inevitable happens; the cautionary reminder turns ugly as warning turns into disaster. Although warning lights may not be of immediate importance, ignoring them can lead to adverse consequences. In the case of consent calendars, most often there is little to contest - contracts are awarded, policies approved or maintenance issues resolved - but just as we should expect our elected officials to pay attention to these expenditures and adjustments, all items addressed by the council are worth public consideration as well.
At the local level, routinely, hundreds of thousands ? sometimes millions - of your dollars are spent on all sorts of products and services critical to the infrastructure of cities and counties. In an effort to be transparent, these expenditures are listed in public view, open to comment and criticism. At public meetings, staff involved in the transactions are usually present to answer questions about any of these items. Quite a bit of preparation and research can be involved when asked to present a proposal to the council and, if required, answer their questions. The public has this right too. To confirm and acknowledge the government we support, it is incumbent upon us, at the very least, to read and acknowledge the validity of the request. On occasion, an item is removed for clarification or dissent; an indication that someone is paying attention. While comment is unnecessary in many instances, to assume all is routine and unimportant within a consent calendar is to court disaster.
As an exercise of your role in local government, look at the latest agenda for a local council or board meeting. Check out the consent calendar and study one or two of the items. Although they may not receive the attention of other portions of the agenda, these can be enlightening and help residents understand the true nuts and bolts of our government. You may even find that the consent calendar can reveal nuggets of significant information not readily apparent to casual observers.