It is perhaps an indication of how slow of a week this is for City Council that there are two articles –– one by me and one by Nina Hernadez –– on Council’s discussion about how to make its meetings shorter and less annoying for everybody.
It’s not an exciting subject, but it is important. Long, meandering meetings are a waste of Council members’ time and, perhaps more importantly, a big waste of city staff’s time. CM Leslie Pool, who was resistant to many of the changes floated, said that Council has improved a great deal recently, noting that the last handful of meetings have been relatively short and sweet.
That’s true. But the hot streak may just be the result of dumb luck. What I’m interested to see is what the big picture trend has been over the past four years, since the 10-1 Council was first seated. So I added up the hours of meetings for each of the past four years.
The average length of each meeting has not declined. It looks like it may have slightly increased. In fact, the longest meeting of the past four years came this past June, when Council adjourned at 3:49 am after 14 hours and 21 minutes of public testimony and debate. That meeting did feature a big-ticket item –– approval of the MLS stadium deal –– but that actually only accounted for final two-and-a-half hours.
What has changed, however, is that Council is holding far fewer meetings and the total meeting time each year has decreased substantially.
Here are the numbers I came up with just by adding up the length of each meeting (rounding to the nearest half hour).
Total hours: 273.5
Avg meeting: 7.1 hrs
# 10+ hr meetings: 9
Total hours: 213
Avg meeting: 7.6 hrs
# 10+ hr meetings: 7
Total hours: 205
Avg meeting: 7.5 hrs
# 10+ hr meetings: 7
Total hours: 176.5
Avg meeting: 8 hrs
# 10+ hr meetings: 6
It’s worth noting that these hours only reflect the time when Council is actually in the chamber, in session. It does not account for the lengthy executive sessions they often take, or their long lunch break, when they are often doing other work in relation to the meeting. So an eight hour meeting does not end at 6 p.m. –– it usually ends much later.
I am skeptical that there are any policy changes that will make meetings much shorter, although being clearer about the agenda could at least lead to city staff or citizen speakers spending less time waiting in the chamber for their item to be called.
The only thing that is going to dramatically reduce the length of meetings is if Council members stop talking so much.