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Columbia City Council seeks to limit lengthy meetings

Columbia City Council seeks to limit lengthy meetings

A recent meeting of the Columbia City Council may have established the all-time record for length. Would the 3 a.m. adjournment on Tuesday/Wednesday Sept. 3/4 qualify for entry into the Guinness Book of Records? Perhaps, or maybe at least a footnote as a runner-up.

Longtime City Hall observers recall many sessions that passed midnight and into the wee hours, but the incumbent mayor campaigned for brevity, and for most of his tenure thus far, that seemed to have been the case.

The most recent marathon represented the convergence of a number of controversial issues that drove legions of activists out of the sultry evening air and into the well-chilled confines of the council chambers. On and on they gassed, it seemed, within their allotted couple of minutes, often parroting many of the points already made by those who preceded them. 

What to do? What to do?

A consequence of growth?

A purely mechanical solution would mate a traffic light with a stop clock. The messages of the traffic light are obvious: green means start talking, yellow warns there’s a minute of bloviating left, and red is the guillotine — time to time up! Reprising times past, the city clerk would simultaneously extinguish the

Yet there’s a greater problem at hand, and it coincides with the growing bigness of Columbia. As the community spreads out and repopulates itself, so increases the community’s complexity as a municipal corporation. The City Council, governed largely by the ukase of its 64-year-old municipal home rule charter, simply doesn’t have the resources and time to deal with the myriad docketed issues presented to it when it was a third its present size in 1949.

It’s a bridge yet to be crossed: to amend the charter and delegate much of what today’s seven city councilors have to wrestle with, to shift issues involving property and zoning, for example, to the Planning and Zoning Commission that would be freshly knighted with the power to render final, binding decisions much as is currently bestowed by the Board of Adjustment. 

Re-engaging participants

Even if the meager stipend only recently provided to City Council representatives for their service is justification for eight-hour sessions, the conclusions of which seem to verge on greeting the dawn’s first light.

For the sake of clarity and objective decision-making, council meetings should end by midnight with no exceptions whatsoever. Maybe City Council service would then be more appealing to entrepreneurs and businesspeople who need to be re-engaged to actively participate in municipal affairs, much as was the case many years ago.

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