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Council Takes Yet Another Stab at Shortening Meetings

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By Jorge Casuso

May 20, 2022 -- Santa Monica's City Council, which is scheduled to meet every other week, held 41 meetings last year, with many lasting into the early morning hours.

On Tuesday, at its 22nd meeting this year, the Council will once again explore ways to wrap up its meetings earlier, including adding still more meetings.

"While changes have been made to the Order of Business over the years, the overall structure of meetings has largely remained the same," staff wrote in its report to the Council.

Meetings, staff said, take place after business hours and end "in the late evening or early the next morning."

To remedy a problem that has stubbornly persisted despite numerous proposals taken up the Council over the years, staff is proposing a number of options.

They include starting meetings earlier, modifying procedures for public comment, pushing up the deadline for Councilmembers to place items on the agenda and setting special meetings for appeals and study sessions.

The Council could begin closed session earlier than 5:30 p.m., mandate that it end by a given time or set a separate special meeting for the closed session.

It also could set an 11 p.m. "hard time" to stop taking up remaining items on the agenda, staff suggested. While the Council has adopted such a guideline, it routinely circumvents it by voting to continue meetings past 11.

The Council also can hold all public comment, or public comment for non-agenda items only, at the start of a meeting, or hold public comment for closed session and items on the consent calendar before meeting behind closed doors.

If it doesn't mind meeting more often, the Council could schedule a third meeting every month strictly to take up appeals or to hold study sessions.

Such a change would have a big impact on Planning staff, which presents almost all of the appeals and is involved in many study sessions, staff noted.

Adding 12 meetings would cost $31,032 a year to pay for two overtime police officers per meeting ($1,016), overtime for City TV production staff ($1,057), overtime for the City Clerk support ($213) and to purchase food ($300).

The Council can also opt to move the deadline to submit Councilmember items to the Thursday or Friday before the meeting, giving staff time to better manage the agenda.

After posting and emailing the agendas on Thursday, the City Clerk consistently adds Councilmember items, despite steps taken by the Council itself to curb such items ("Council Takes Steps to Curb Own Agenda Items," September 17, 2021).

Tuesday's agenda item comes three months after the City Council took steps to shorten meetings, including requiring a two-thirds vote for an item to be taken up after 11 p.m.

Tuesday marks the fourth time in little more than three years the Council takes a stab at solving the problem ("Council Tries, Yet Again, to Shorten Meetings," February 28, 2022).

In 2010, the Council rejected a proposal by then Mayor Bobby Shriver to limit the amount of time Councilmembers had to discuss an item ("Council Ponders How to Make a Shorter Meeting," June 24, 2010).

Later that year, the Council explored placing a five-minute limit on oral staff reports and using timers to show public speakers and Councilmembers how long they had been speaking ("Development Agreements, Length of Meetings on City Council Agenda," September 10, 2010).

Three years ago, the Council rejected a proposal to limit individual remarks to one minute, instead of the usual two, under certain circumstances ("Santa Monica Council Tweaks Public Input Rules," February 28, 2019).

In addition, to the Council, Santa Monica has 16 Boards and Commissions, two special City Boards and one Task Force, many of which have subcommittees, which can result in 12 to 20 additional public meeting a month, according to staff.

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