City Council should reinstate study sessions

August 5, 2010

By Contributor

City Council meetings are supposed to be no longer than three hours, but in recent months, they have routinely blown past their allotted time. It isn’t uncommon for items expected to last 30 minutes to take 90 minutes, or for discussions to segue from one item to a bigger issue.

At its July 20 meeting, the City Council transitioned from a discussion of a budget report to solutions to the city’s police contract with King County. Two items were scheduled for the typically-short summer agenda, expected to take 90 minutes.

After three hours and 45 minutes, the 7 p.m. meeting adjourned at nearly 11 p.m.

That doesn’t work. Council members may not care, but getting into unannounced side topics without public input is not good. This council has promised transparency.

There needs to be more time to discuss these “bigger issues,” so they don’t spill over into regular council meetings.

Mayor John Dulcich created the Library Development Committee and the Community, Communications and Outreach Committee to allow some council members more time to discuss issues and report to the full council. Now, it’s time to bring back monthly study sessions — full council meetings for reports and discussions, but without action.

Reverting to monthly study sessions would give council members much-needed time for further discussion and help regular meetings keep to the agenda.

Dulcich always tries to keep his fellow council members on track, but it can be a difficult task once they get going. Once a hot topic hits the table, everyone has to put in his or her two cents. After 10 p.m., the City Council gets — in Dulcich’s words — “tired and cranky.” Productivity crumbles.

The long meetings also take their toll on the audience. Only the most devoted stay for the entire meeting; these patient people have almost gotten used to countless motions “to suspend the rules and extend the meeting.”

To the council’s credit, it rarely tables agenda items. It just takes longer than it should with a few detours along the way.

Until the detours are no more, study sessions are necessary.

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