Thoughts on improving City Council meetings

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During the water and sewer rate hearing held earlier this year, a member of the public said the hearing should have been held at the start of the council meeting.

I’m not supposed to participate in meetings I cover, but I was sorely tempted to cheer.

I’ve covered government meetings in multiple cities since 2005. Four-hour council meetings like the one held on Feb. 12 are less common than they used to be (thank God), but there are things that can be done to improve council meetings. I have no idea how much money any of them would cost. Here are some thoughts on possible ways to improve the meetings. 

• The entire budget meeting process should be longer. Two six-plus hours of workshops in one week, followed by a three-plus hour meeting the following week, crams a lot of information into a short period of time. It’s exhausting for the council, for the public, and for a journalist trying to cover the Seal Beach budget. 

The Seal Beach budget workshops should start in March or April. There would be more meetings (and work) for me, but council members and the public could absorb the information more easily. 

• Put hearings at the start of the meeting. Some Seal Beach residents have to go to work in the morning. They have the same right as retired people to speak their minds to their government. Holding public hearings at the end of council meetings puts the public at a disadvantage. The current system complies with the letter of the Brown Act, but not the spirit. The council has already moved the public comment period to before the council looks at the Consent Calendar. This seems an easy fix.

• Presentations, on the other hand, probably ought to go to the end of the meeting. Whenever I see a presentation on the agenda, I mentally add five to 10 minutes for each presentation to the overall length of the meeting. Plaques and proclamations are nice, but they can wait until serioius business is done.

• The Consent Calendar could go near the end of the meetings. The Consent Calendar is a list of items that are voted on collectively unless one or more items get pulled for individual consideration. Since approval of Consent Calendar items is virtually guaranteed, the calendar can safely go last. That, incidentally, would discourage council members from pulling items off the calendar as a form of grandstanding, self-promotion, or using their office to campaign for reelection.  

Related: A journalist friend thinks there shouldn’t be a Consent Calendar. I follow his reasoning, but if council members have to vote individually on items A through Z, every meeting will be a long night even if everyone agrees on everything. No council will go for that. A better idea might be for council members to propose putting items on the Consent Calendar at the start of the meeting and then have the council members vote on the Consent Calendar at the end of the meeting. The council already votes each meeting on approving the order of the agenda at each meeting. 

• At a minimum, the city manager should read the Consent Calendar to the council before they vote on it. This will add time to the meeting, but it will also increase transparency. The Avalon city manager does this at their council meetings. 

• At least three times a year, the council should meet in other parts of town. The city already uses Fire Station 48 for the Strategic Planning meeting. Residents of Leisure World, College Park East, College Park West, Bridgeport, and Leisure World deserve that. 

It’d be inconvenient for me, but the rest of the community would benefit. 

The tricky part for the city might be setting up the video for broadcast on the internet and on cable TV. The Strategic Planning Meeting was audio-only. 

• At least two council meetings a year should be held on a Saturday. Again, some people have to work and don’t get home in time to watch meetings when they start at 7 p.m. This isn’t a magic bullet. You can’t please 25,000 people and you’d go insane if you tried.

Charles M. Kelly is associate editor of the Sun. He is also a grouch.