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Council Makes Time to Tackle Late-night Meetings

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 20 -- More than two months ago, the City Council tried to broach the topic of cutting back the long hours of marathon council meetings. Eight meetings later, they found time to talk about it.

From forming subcommittees and limiting staff reports to listening to mayoral admonitions and following an informal timeline, several suggestions were aired last week on ways to speed up council meetings that for years have continued late into the night.

"I think the objective here is to make the meetings more efficient, make sure we give everybody an opportunity to be heard," Mayor Richard Bloom said. "That really is the hallmark of participatory democracy in Santa Monica."

Set to come back to the council as formal policy in coming weeks, many of the recommendations made last Tuesday night were accepted with little debate.

However, there were differences when it came to the issue of limiting council members' input or the public's right to speak.

"If we are going to direct staff to put a firm limit on the ability of members of the public to speak at our meeting,” said Council member Kevin McKeown, “I would like to see that counted with some additional and equivalent discipline placed on our own times in speaking, because I think this is a dialogue."

Currently, members of the public have three minutes to speak an issue, two minutes when there are more than 15 speakers and one minute when there are more than 40 speakers.

Under a suggestion that could likely pass when it is brought back to the council as an ordinance, the two-minute time limit would kick in if more than 10 members of the public speak on an item, and one minute when there are 30 members or more scheduled to speak.

Council member Bobby Shriver sided with McKeown in asking his council members to carefully consider further restricting public input.

"I'm not that crazy about limiting the members of the public's time," he said. "I find I learn something when members of the public speak."

Shriver joined others in suggesting limiting the council members’ speaking time.

"I think the number one thing we have to do honestly is discipline ourselves, and I'm happy to raise my hand and say I'm a violator of talking too much," he said. "There's no way to do that without a clock on it."

However, some, including Council member Ken Genser, said the council didn’t need staff to craft ways to limit the time they had to speak.

"I think it's inappropriate to ask staff to have that responsibility," said Genser. "We have ideas on how we should speak less… We don't need others to tell us to be quiet. If we can't do it ourselves, then we've got trouble."

Council members, who will put the proposed changes to a vote, agreed the issue is an important one.

Shriver said he knows several people, many of them women, who would not serve on the council because meetings last too long.

"It's not because they couldn't get money for (campaign) financing, it's because they had problems with staying up this late," he said. "In terms of things that help prevent people from running for the council, I think the lateness of hours is a serious impediment.

"Particularly women candidates who have had informal talks (with me have said) 'I can't do it. I have kids I have a job, I can't stay up until one in the morning," Shriver said.

In recent years, the late meetings have even led Council members Bob Holbrook and Herb Katz to sue the City, although the legal challenges were later dropped.

In an effort to address issues left over from late-night meetings, the council has been scheduling several extra sessions in the past few months, something McKeown said is not a good idea.

"We burn out staff, we make it difficult on us, all of us who have full-time jobs,” McKeown said. “So I'd like to make additional meetings an option as a last resort."

But the additional meetings may be required to address the increasingly difficult and complex set of issues coming before the council, Bloom said.

"That time frame was created decades ago when the city was a much less complicated place,” Bloom said. “The issues were not nearly as numerous and complex as they are today. We simply have more things to accomplish and more things to do."

Genser, who is serving his 19th year on the council, worried that no matter what steps are taken, it will be difficult to curb long meetings.

"It's easy to make suggestions, and it’s hard to have them really bear fruit," he said.

After several minutes discussing the issue on an evening when the agenda was filled with pressing topics, Bloom practiced some agenda management of his own well past midnight.

"Ken has to go home, so I think we really need to move this along," the mayor said.

The item is expected to come back to the council in coming weeks.


"I think the number one thing we have to do honestly is discipline ourselves."
Bobby Shriver




"We have ideas on how we should speak less… We don't need others to tell us to be quiet."
Ken Genser


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