Iowa – City Council members are considering transitioning from four council meetings per month to two, a move that would provide fewer opportunities for public comment at meetings.
The change was discussed during Monday’s work session at City Hall. The council currently meets four Mondays a month.
Ward 3 council member Patrick Morrissey opposed the change, saying it would shirk the council’s responsibility to the public.
“They want to know, they want to hear, they want to have explanations made as to what certain things are,” Morrissey said. “Four meetings a month for us spending maybe two hours — two and a half hours if you put it all together — once a week on a council meeting is not too much, and I think the public expects that from us.”
Morrissey said meeting just twice a month would result in lengthy consent agendas that do not allow for public input. Items on the consent agenda can be approved with one vote rather than being considered one at a time. The process saves time but does not allow time for public comment like regular agenda items.
Morrissey said fewer meetings also would keep ordinances from being passed in a timely manner. City Clerk Kelley Felchle noted the council is allowed to suspend second and third readings of ordinances when quick approval is needed. At-large council member Dave Boesen said there are ways to gather public input between meetings.
Mayor Quentin Hart said he would work with Felchle to craft scenarios involved in a two-meeting-per-month schedule.
“I think the goal is to get as much information as you can so you can study, so you can look at it, so you can ask questions, so that when you talk to the citizens and for your own knowledge, you’ll be able to accurately explain them,” Hart said of the proposed change.
Boesen proposed that council agendas to be released at least a week in advance of meetings. Agendas now are usually dispersed Thursdays or Fridays before Monday meetings.
“It gives council people the time to digest it, to ask questions, to meet with department heads or email them or speak with them when they have questions,” Boesen said of an advanced schedule. “It also gives the opportunity to have some work sessions prior to council meetings and not the day of the council meeting.”
Work sessions are typically held Mondays before the regular session. The meetings are open to the public but have no public comment period.
At-large council member Sharon Juon proposed work sessions be held between regular meetings. She also suggested a provision that would allow last-minute items to be added to agendas released a week in advance.
“I think we’ve got to do something in the interim that’ll allow us to do more planning for the future than what we’re currently able to do right now,” Juon said Monday.