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Something needs to be done to eliminate marathon City Council sessions

Something needs to be done to eliminate marathon City Council sessions

Al Germond

After the Columbia City Council finally succeeded in wrapping up its business for its Sept. 18 session around 3 a.m., I was convinced that there should be rules for mandatory midnight adjournment, regardless of what’s going on.

Since city councils have the proclivity to pass all sorts of rules for us to follow, maybe it’s time for Columbia’s own unpaid citizen-legislators to enact a rule that would rein in the length of their own proceedings.

It seems to me that the whole matter of municipal governance by these willing volunteers deserves serious scrutiny that would handily fit into the much-touted, about-to-begin process of visioning for the future. The questions should cover whether council representatives should be paid (that old chestnut), whether to increase the number of times the council meets and whether other steps can be taken to reorganize or streamline the procedures.

As an aside comes the issue of whether the council membership should be enlarged and/or reapportioned to account for growth and citywide population shifts. As would be obvious, given the city’s overall growth, each council person now answers to more constituents than council members did 30-plus years ago, the last time the city legislature was enlarged.

As for the recent eight-hour-long session, it was downright irresponsible for the person who schedules the City Council’s business to line up a number of predictably controversial and contentious issues on the same evening’s (and morning’s) docket. Unless it was a case of wishful thinking or just plain bald naiveté, it was certainly well known in advance that the twin controversies of West Broadway “improvements” and a zoning issue at the intersection of West Sexton Road and North Garth Avenue would bring out the troops en masse and occupy the council’s time for hours. (The City Council also scheduled public hearings on the proposed city budget and on a contentious public safety issue the same night.)

As the city grows and the nature of municipal governance expands, I suspect that council members probably devote almost as many hours per week to city business, including the sometimes protracted fortnightly meetings, as they do to their daytime jobs, for which they are, of course, compensated. To not pay these elected servants for the services they perform is flat-out wrong, and steps need to be taken as soon as possible to set in motion the means to begin compensating them.

While that doesn’t lick the protracted-meetings problem, paying council members would lessen some of the guilt we may have about the long hours they have heretofore been donating on our behalf. Compensation at the same time might tend to justify extending council sessions to the following evening if midnight adjournment is made mandatory.

One matter perennially overlooked when it comes to marathon council sessions is how clear-headed anyone could be during Tuesday mornings’ wee hours. To expect our sleep-deprived council representatives to decide on any matter of importance at, say, 2 a.m. is a risky proposition, which is why the proceedings should adjourn at midnight and then be carried over to a succeeding evening.

While protracted council sessions may confirm the growth we are so ebullient about, let’s add how the City Council does its business to the growing list of matters we need to address as we begin visioning.

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