Estevan city council meetings have been pretty consistent in their length in recent weeks.
There was a 12-minute meeting on Oct. 1. The meeting on Oct. 22 was unusually long, at 22 minutes. And then the most recent meeting on Nov. 5 was back to 12 minutes.
The shortest council meetings are usually in the fall. Last year was an exception due to the fallout from the closure of the Civic Auditorium.
Once fall arrives, the tenders have been awarded, the work in the spring and summer has been completed, and the budget has yet to be discussed in open.
But 12 minutes is too short. That’s the kind of length we expect for the open portion of the Estevan board of police commissioners meeting, rather than a city council meeting.
Plus, much of the discussion at council is usually reserved for inquiries, which often becomes a session of show and tell, or promotion of events for committees the council members are involved with.
Inquiries is designed to be an opportunity for council members to bring forward issues happening in the community, whether it be something they have noticed, or something that has been brought to them by concerned ratepayers.
Is there really so little happening in the community that the shortest of meetings will be 12 minutes? We don’t think so. The city isn’t as busy as it was in 2012, but there is still lots to be discussed, and the agendas should be thicker than they are now.
City council should have enough on the agenda to justify two meetings that last at least 30 minutes twice a month.
We’ve seen agenda items that have been rushed through, or maybe not given the amount of time they deserve. Perhaps more discussion is warranted on some items.
This is not a call for a return to the council meetings we saw from 2000-2003, which often extended beyond three or four hours. Those were ridiculous in length, and stemmed from a fractured council. Members often launched into lengthy and redundant diatribes.
Thankfully, the divisions that existed on council 16 years ago are no longer there. We have a council that is co-operative. If there are disagreements, they’re usually cordial. Council also has a good working relationship with its management.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have more discussion in open.
A few years ago, council tried having just one meeting a month. It was expected that they would have a little more content in the meetings. That didn’t happen. The final meetings of the year were still around 15 minutes.
It also created problems when it came to passing bylaws, since council would pass first reading at one meeting, and then wait four or five weeks for second and third readings.
Thankfully, council returned to two meetings a month.
When you look at the sparse agenda for council meetings, it makes you wonder what is being discussed in committee. Now, there are things, particularly when it comes to personnel, which have to be discussed behind closed doors. And there are other items where council is obligated to discuss in committee.
But are there some things that could be decided in open?
We believe city council and the city’s management have done a good job of being more transparent. There have been public meetings to discuss such issues as annexing land from the Rural Municipality of Estevan, and making upgrades or changes to the fitness room. We’d like to see more of these meetings.
And it’s good that council continues to seek feedback from the public on the budget, even though that feedback is usually lacking.
It would just be nice to see meetings with more on the agenda, and lengths greater than 12 minutes.