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GOD BLESS AMERICA
City Council Approves Tighter Grip On Member-Generated Study Sessions
One item on last week’s city council meeting agenda, which focused on council policies, attracted my attention even though not a whole lot about it has been reported -- at least as we’re going to press with this edition.
The item put a tighter restriction on any city council member’s desire to hold a council study session on a particular subject.
The measure passed 6-1, with Councilman Bill Faber voting against it on grounds that he had not been given enough time to study it and talk to the citizens about it.
Actually, I think Faber voted against the new policy because it would probably have more impact on him than the other members of the council who don’t request many study sessions.
Since Faber was elected two years ago, he has requested study sessions on some items he felt would be good for the council to consider.
His fellow council members have not been all that receptive and amending the policy on study sessions, will make it more difficult for Faber, or any other council member to get study sessions approved.
Why Was Policy Changed?
The item in question was under City Council Meetings, Study Session Items on the agenda and read: “For Councilmember requested study session items, an initial request shall be made at a regularly scheduled Council meeting under New Business. No discussion shall be had at that time. The request shall be renewed at a subsequent Council meeting under New Business. If four (4) members of Council concur with the request, the item will be placed on a future agenda as a study session item.”
The change that was approved is a way of exercising more control over council meetings and not holding study sessions that cover everything from the price of tea in China to how many ants can fit on a jar lid!
Of course, that’s an exaggeration, because Faber (or any other council person) has not requested something as ridiculous as the examples mentioned, but during the first few years I was mayor we had study sessions coming out of our ears -- and city staff had to devote a lot of time in researching items that didn’t stand a chance of ever being approved to move forward towards an “official” council vote.
That meant that a lot of council and city staff time was wasted because one council member wanted a study session.
All a council member had to do back then, was think of something during the council meeting (spur of the moment) that he or she wanted a study session on, request a study session, and it would have to be on the agenda at some future council meeting.
Frankly, we were drowning in study sessions and something had to change!
We created a tougher standard to get a study session on the agenda (and a majority of the council approved it) which stated that, in order for a council member to get a study session on the agenda, he or she would have to bring up that request at a council meeting and then, at the following meeting have at least two additional council members, agree on holding the study session.
That’s been the policy since the time I was in office and I think it has been successful in its intended purpose over the last decade.
Apparently, there has been some concern that too many study sessions were going to be brought up and approved by two other council members (especially with two new members taking their seats) and the pace of study session requests might pick up.
I don’t know if that would have happened, but it does raise the “study session request” acceptance bar higher.
With the 6-1 vote at the last council meeting, it essentially requires four of the seven council members (including the mayor) to agree on the study session instead of three.
Is It A Good Or Bad Policy?
I guess it depends on how a person views the reason for the policy determine if it is a good policy.
Some may see it as an attempt to stop the flow of new ideas that could help the community via the information that comes out of the study session .
Others may view it as making city council meetings more focused on the business at hand and items the council does have some control over.
I think a lot of it depends on the composition of the council and how the members view their role in the community.
Apparently, six out of seven of the present council, felt it was necessary to change the policy and add the fourth person who joins the council member requesting the study session, and two others, to make the session a reality.
Now, a council member who wants a study session will have to lobby three other members to get his, or her, item on the agenda -- or it will die for lack of support.
When Any Study Session Is Over...
When a study session is held, either by the city manager putting it on the agenda, or a council-generated session, there is no official vote taken, but when I was mayor, I always asked the members if they wanted to continue with what was learned at the study session and put it on the regular agenda for a vote at a future meeting, bring it back for another study session or forget about moving forward with it.
When I got my answer, I then turned to the city manager and gave him direction about what the council members wanted to do.
What Happens In Vegas...
Is Also True Of City Council Executive Sessions
I think most of us have heard the expression, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and the same is true to a greater extent about what happens in city council executive session from now on.
Material passed out to individual members in the private meeting is initialled and cannot leave the room. Also, any notes that are taken by council members during an executive session are also collected.
This is the tightest grip on city council executive sessions that I’ve seen in my years as editor and also chairing a lot of executive sessions when I was in office.
There’s a very limited amount of items that can be discussed in executive session and if that information is carried out and shared with bidders, contract negotiators, etc., it could seriously damage the City of Decatur and the taxpayers.
Listen to the “City Hall Insider” hour with Paul Osborne on Byers & Co. at 7:00 every Thursday morning over NEWS/TALK 1340 WSOY or visit our website at decaturtribune.net and find us on Facebook.
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I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.