The following is a follow up to the editorial titled; We need more detailed, timely city council agendas.
This editorial ran in the Sanford Herald on Thursday, August 28th, 2008. Hopefully, this will explain how and why some procedures are in place concerning meetings, agendas, etc. The bold print is from the paper. The follow up information is in regular print.
Maybe the Sanford City Council has become so used to disagreeing with Councilmen Mike Stone and Charles Taylor, it’s become second nature, regardless of subject matter.
It doesn’t make it any less baffling, however, that some councilmen would argue against Taylor and Stone’s suggestion Wednesday of a deadline for agenda items to be submitted for the council’s twicemonthly agenda-setting Law and Finance meetings.
Before 1993, Law & Finance was originally a meeting of the Mayor and 3 council members. These council members would set the agenda for the upcoming regular meeting.
The decision was made to change the meeting to include all council members. This allowed the city staff to bring ideas & concerns to the council that may need to be addressed. The entire council, would then make decisions and form the regular council meeting agenda.
There is a great deal of support data that is required and accompanies some issues. Sometimes this information is not completed until Wednesday morning. Law & Finance meetings are on the Wednesday before the regular council meeting. The city clerk gathers and organizes this information for the meeting.
We’ve heard arguments in the past from some councilmen that the meetings shouldn’t be televised.
That’s debatable. The argument (a poor one, we feel) is the council can’t be open and up front when discussing what should go on the agenda for the council meeting, which is intended to be a very public and very open event.
The debate has been over for many months. The meetings are on TV. A point that should be mentioned is Law & Finance meetings are fact finding and discussion meeting. No voting on any issue is done then.
In my opinion, TV cameras make some council members not speak as freely as they’d like at times. I also feel that some council members are caught up in being on TV and posture to the cameras. I have seen council members act as if they were speaking to the audience at meetings. In reality, the council chambers were empty. The only people there were the council members, the city manager, the city attorney, clerk, and the staff member speaking.
There is a great deal of value in letting the citizens see the discussion process of Law & Finance, however, sometimes I feel that it does suppress some council members free thinking, and open conversation. This same rule would apply to the regular meetings.
But there shouldn’t even be a debate when it comes to doing everything possible to ensure a detailed, informative agenda that’s open to public scrutiny before all meetings.
Law & Finance is an information and discovery process for council. The news paper gets the information at the same time that council does. That day at the meeting. The information is placed at the council member’s seat in the council chamber.
As previously stated; at times, the staff adds things to the Law & Finance meeting agenda at the last minute. If an agenda was sent out Monday morning electronically, it would be possible that a council member could read an editorial about how they should react to an idea, before even having a chance to hear from the city staff. That would not be beneficial to anyone.
It’s true, the Law and Finance meeting is a time for open discussion, but the public has a right to know what will be discussed. The public — which is responsible for voting in each councilmember — should most certainly be aware of what will be discussed in these meetings … even if it’s a“preparation meeting.”
The public gets the information the same time as the council and the media. The fact finding meetings are televised and available on the City web site on the internet. They are also reported on by the news paper. There is NO action taken at these meetings. They are not voting meetings.
Currently Sanford City Council agendas — which are sent by mail, and not the electric kind — are sometimes slow in reaching the intended destinations. The Herald at times receives its Sanford agenda the day of or day after the meeting is held.
As discussed in the meeting held with the Editor of the Herald on Friday, August 22nd, 2008. Before this editorial was printed. The city is working on getting the regular meeting agenda out electronically. It is important to note, this meeting was requested by a member of council trying to improve the way the city communicates and shares information with the media. Getting the agenda and information out in a timely manner, and informing the citizens is an important issue. This subject had been recently mentioned in an editorial in the Herald.
As for the city’s Web site, the most recent agenda on its site is Aug. 19.
Regular meetings agendas are the only agendas posted on the web site. The last meeting was August 19th.
The most recent “minutes” from a meeting were published back on June 3.
This area could use some improvement. It does take a long time to type the long meeting minutes currently held by council. In a perfect world, correct minutes should follow meetings by about 21 days and be posted. They have to be submitted to council at the following meeting (2 weeks), then approved. If there are no amendments they can be posted. There are many other duties the City Clerk has to accomplish in addition to minutes of meetings.
The meeting may be viewed, in its entirety, on the city web usually by the morning following the meeting.
This means John Doe isn’t finding out in time that the city is planning a zoning change in his neighborhood.
The city post signs in neighborhoods that inform the public of zoning changes, etc. The neighbors are notified by mail. A public notice is posted in the Herald. Usually, the Herald post what will be discussed at the regular meeting the day of the meeting.
A public hearing is held for all matters such as zoning, etc. There is also a public comment period before the regular agenda at every regular meeting. Before any voting takes place on issues.
It means John Doe doesn’t have time to fill out the proper paperwork to be able to speak at the council meetings.
Anyone can sign up to speak at a council meeting. The law requires it be allowed once a month. The city allows it at every regular meeting. It is a good idea. Citizens can sign up with the city clerk 15 minutes before the meeting. All anyone needs is their name and address. This shouldn’t take too long, even if they print. They will speak before the council begins the regular agenda.
It means it will be another voice unheard.
This is a little dramatic……..don’t you think.
The law states that TV cameras, recording devices and the public cannot be barred from open public meetings. It also states that councils must give the public 48 hours of notice for meetings — regular or special — stating the time, place and purpose of the meeting. It does not state, however, that the agenda has to be detailed or even distributed …
it can be simply posted on City Hall’s door to be legal.
That means it’s our elected officials job to make an effort when it comes to informing the public. That we have councilmen at odds over this very subject is the real headscratcher here. The debate should be “how do we make the public more informed?” … “not how do we keep them in the dark?”
The debate is… how long it takes to gather the information and put it in the proper form before distribution. After a Tuesday night meeting, a Monday morning cut-off would allow 3 days to have everything ready for an agenda for Law & Finance.
There are many other things being worked on in the city besides meeting agendas. The reason regular agendas are able to be finalized in 2 days is because most of the preliminary work is gathered for discussion at the Law & Finance meeting. This is released all in plain view of the public…….seen for the first time by the public, the media, and the council members in an unbiased manner.
I believe the public should be informed. I believe that council should be informed also. Informing the public is not the issue. How to plan for meetings, gather and prepare information, and how this information is presented to the council is the issue.
If the city council, the press, and the public learn what may, or may not be on the Law & Finance agenda all at the same time…… I believe that the public is being informed and in a fair manner.
As I mentioned before. This is not an action taking meeting. No voting on issues. It is time for council to learn and ask questions…..all seen on TV and the internet. The regular meeting has been structured so citizens can speak on issues before any vote is taken.
The city council is a representative form of government. Council members are elected to do a job. They are to make decisions using their best judgment and ability. I believe informing the public and allowing their input before decisions are made is being accomplished by the city council.
If you have questions please or call Steve Brewer at 919-770-9587.