The last three City Council meetings have been tough.
Lots of good questions. A number of resolutions passed. Progress made on several projects. Even a bit of emotion on sensitive topics.
But they’ve also been exhausting.
Each of the last three meetings has exceeded three hours in length. And that’s not a good thing.
I like to meet and discuss issues with people and to work until the work is done. But once a meeting gets into its third hour, something changes. People get impatient, decision-making gets rushed, words are said that are best left unsaid and the structure starts to break down.
I thought, after the first two meetings, that we would be able to work through the meetings more quickly – but our third meeting was the longest one of all. And for the first time in a long time, people were getting angry.
Don’t get the idea that I don’t like conflict. Quite the contrary. I work in a creative field that requires people to be passionate about their ideas and to argue for them (and against others). That kind of conflict can be great when it comes to synthesizing new ideas from the options available.
But anger gets in the way of all that.
And the kind of anger that was on display at our last meeting came from a place of fatigue and frustration as well as a result of passion for one project or another. There’s something good that can be mined from that – but one part of it, the fatigue, is a problem that needs to be managed another way.
That’s why I listened to what members of the City Council, some audience members and those with experience in other city administrations had to say and have modified the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. I hope the modified agenda will still encourage public interaction/discourse, as well as streamline the reporting and discussions so we can accomplish the same amount of business in less time.
Change in Public Input Opportunities
When I first joined Riverdale as its mayor, I wanted to find a way to encourage greater discourse between the City Council and its residents. That’s why I’ve always asked residents for the topics they wanted to discuss and attempted to involve them in conversations on those topics at the appropriate time within the agenda.
That’s now going to change (a little).
After we go through the consent and regular agendas (making modifications where needed), I’ll ask those present if they wish to address the Council on any matter on the agenda. Depending on the number of people who wish to speak, I’ll set a time limit for each speaker (every speaker will have the same amount of time) and set the order. Speakers will introduce themselves and the topic they wish to speak about (for the record) and can then make their statement. I will keep time.
A couple of things to know about how I intend to keep time:
1. I’ll let you know when you’re coming to the end of your available time;
2. I’ll let you finish your thought when your time expires; and
3. If you’re just repeating what other people have said before you, I’ll ask if you have anything new or further to add – and if you don’t, you’ll be asked to sit down.
The next section of the agenda is intended to be for informational purposes. These are activity reports and project updates. Members of the Council are allowed to ask questions for more clarity, if required.
The next section of the agenda focuses on Council actions: ordinances, resolutions and motions. For each action, someone (either me – as mayor – or a city staff person) will provide a little background on the action first (what is the action, why is it proposed, how much will it cost, when will it be done). A motion and a second are then required to consider the action by the City Council. The Council will then deliberate and take a decision (i.e. accept, reject or table).
After all the actions have been taken by the Council, we move on to the discussion phase of the meeting. The Council discusses a variety of issues by department with some input from staff or other subject experts who may be invited to provide additional background information. We will work to identify a “next step”on each issue for future consideration/action by the City Council.
Following my wrap-up/summary (the REPORT FROM THE MAYOR), we open the meeting up to more public input. This is an opportunity for those present to offer their thoughts, observations, etc. on the business conducted at the meeting and to raise any other issues they would like the City Council to discuss in a future meeting. The time available for this portion of the meeting will be set by me, as the mayor, and will then be equally divided among all residents who desire to speak to the City Council.
A special note about “Closed/Executive Sessions”
You’ll note that on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting (11/26), the City Council is planning on going into a “Closed Session.” These sessions are held in accordance with the State of Iowa’s Open Meetings Laws and are available to City Councils when discussing legal strategy and/or personnel matters (when requested by the subject of the discussion). No action is taken in these closed sessions and the minutes from these sessions are not available for public review.
I look forward to seeing you at our next City Council Meeting. Hopefully, we’ll have you home in time to watch the 10pm news.