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Council pledges reform for '06

Efficiency, shorter meetings are the goals.

The City Council’s resolutions for the New Year include better efficiency, less time spent in meetings, increased public participation and better communication with the administration.

But rather than make a list and hope for the best, the council has enacted procedural reforms it hopes will help them keep to their promises in 2006 and beyond.

“We wanted to reduce the amount of time spent not being productive,” said Bob Scales, who will chair the council this year. “We also want to make things more clear between the administration and with public comment.”

The council has given more authority to the chair to negotiate agendas and other matters on behalf of the full group. The chair will not serve on any standing committees, and will instead meet directly with the mayor and administrator to hash out schedules, meeting dates and other day-to-day matters.

“The chair, heretofore, had no authority,” said Councilwoman Deborah Vancil, who served as chair last year. “The chair was more of a gofer and could not speak with authority on the council’s role. Without a designee, the administration just worked with whichever council member was available at the moment.”

This led to communication problems and confusion between the council and the administration, Vancil said, including an overabundance of meetings scheduled by the administrator.

The council also reaffirmed the role of its standing committees. Last year, the council scaled back committee meetings while initiating regular “Committee of the Whole” gatherings on major issues. But these quickly became a catch-all for various issues, swelling the meeting schedule.

The council will now hold COW meetings on an as-needed basis.

The council has done away with its Operations Committee, which councilors said spent too much time on scheduling issues. The Capital Facilities Committee was also abolished and its duties were transferred to the Finance Committee.

Councilman Bill Knobloch welcomes the renewed emphasis on the core committee meetings.

“We learned our lesson in ’05,” he said. “The committee meeting structure is more responsive in getting citizen issues to the council.”

Councilors said the more relaxed atmosphere of committees encourages the public to get involved. The council hopes to draw more public input and hold additional citizen presentations in committee to streamline regular council meetings.

The council will now only allow 15 minutes for general public comment at regular meetings, with some comment time added for resolutions that have reached second reading. Councilors have also agreed to not let meetings run past 9 p.m.

Overall, the council hopes to keep meeting hours down to 20 or 24 hours per month.

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