It’s no secret that I’ve long been clamouring for longer city council meetings.
I’ve been critical in the past when council has taken the “set a speed record” approach to meetings, with sessions lasting 15-20 minutes, and half of the meetings spent on the inquiries portion, which often turned into show and tell time.
So I’m not going to be complaining when city council invited the media to be part of budget deliberations in January, or when their first regular meeting of the year went one hour and 47 minutes, or when the second meeting of the year on Monday night went an hour and 45 minutes.
Frankly, when you look at the agendas for those two meetings, they likely should have been around 1:45 each. The bonus part? Not much time was dedicated to turning inquiries into show and tell.
There were good presentations with good questions at these meetings. There were some important issues discussed. The city passed its budget. I gleaned some extra stories from the presentations.
Yes, I was in my happy place.
Those with short attention spans might not be too happy with a lengthy meeting.
The meetings this year haven’t had grandstanding or long-winded diatribes or unnecessary discussions of reports or other forms of verbal diarrhea. The topics that should have received discussion were discussed at length. Those that needed a quick motion and approval were dealt with accordingly.
It was how a council meeting should be.
The only thing that would have been nice would have been more responses to the city’s budget from members of the public. But that has nothing to do with city council.
We knew that council meetings were going to have a different look following November’s civic election. Several members of council campaigned on a desire to see longer and more open council meetings. So when council decided to have two meetings most months instead of one, you knew that changes were coming with how meetings were run.
More questions. Possibly more items on the agenda. Better discussion.
You can have meetings that last too long. I remember when I first moved here, the meetings would often be three or even four hours in length. Budget meetings would be spread out over several meetings, and would last several hours each.
Those meetings weren’t a reflection of an excessive commitment to being open and transparent. Rather, it reflected a fractured council, where grandstanding and arguing in circles usually carried the day.
Two more quick notes about meetings when I first arrived. They always started late. Usually 30-45 minutes late. And the council meetings often had projected times on the agenda. Usually they were wrapping up the “Original communications, delegations and petitions” portion of the meeting at the time they were supposed to adjourn.
It frustrated local residents and diminished interest in meetings.
Short meetings are bad. Excruciatingly long meetings are even worse.
For the most part, the previous council did a pretty good job at running the city. And the meetings were better in the final year of the term. Yes, there was just one meeting a month, but the discussion was better. However, the quality of the open council meetings are always part of the way in which the general public judges a city council. And a lot of nights in 2018 and 2019, those meetings were lacking.
It’s unlikely we’re going to see the next meetings flirt with the two-hour mark. Council will have two meetings each of the next five months. The next public meeting will be in less than two weeks.
If council continues to have 105-minute meetings when they’re meeting every second week, then you might have some people complaining about the meeting length.
But a one-hour meeting twice a month? Nothing wrong with that.
Hopefully, this is the trend in the right direction. Hopefully the council members who included more open council meetings in their campaigns are satisfied; and more importantly, hopefully their supporters are happy, because they heard from people not happy with the meeting lengths.
And hopefully, the days of 20-minute meetings with little actual dialogue are over, not just for now or for the rest of this year, but for the rest of this term.