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Thread: Policy for ending meetings at a reasonable time?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    Policy for ending meetings at a reasonable time?

    Do you have policies in place to ensure that meetings end at a reasonable time?

    When building and development were at their peak, we frequently had meetings past 11 (start time of 7), and I recall 4 or 5 my first summer here that went past midnight. When things slowed down, 10 became more typical. Now, we're seeing an upswing in large projects and full agendas again. Our most recent meeting ended at 12:45 AM. Two Council members were in attendance and were aghast and now wish us to establish a policy that would prevent this.

    Do you have anything in place? We have been putting fewer items on each agenda, but sometimes you get a few that surprise you with either more neighbors than expected or complications you didn't foresee.

    Do you cut a meeting off at a certain time, regardless of whether an applicant and his neighbors have already been sitting in the audience for three hours?

    Do you simply schedule so few things that you're guaranteed to end earlier? I think if we did this, we'd be scheduling 5-6 months out.

    Meeting earlier isn't an option with this group.

    I'd welcome any advice and insight. Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    We've had similar issues and briefly instituted a 5 minute limit on public comment which was wildly unpopular and quickly abandoned. A big part of it is the chairman keeping everyone on target during the meeting.

  3. #3
    We go until the agenda is complete and I've been here past 2.00 AM for a meeting. As Seabishop wrote, it's the Chairman's job to keep the meeting moving and avoid redundant testimony. Oh the children! Think of the kids! The kids won't be able to play in the streets anymore! Children will get run over! Sidewalks will attract child molesters! Ad infinitum.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    We limit pubic comments to three minutes each.

    What about having two meetings a month. It seems like it might be a nightmare to keep organized, especially when you have to publish notices, etc. but it would keep the meetings shorter.

  5. #5
    In a former city we had a 10:00 p.m. curfew on starting an item, which would be pushed to the next month's agenda.............

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    We already do two meetings per month.

    I very much agree that the chairman can play a very important role in getting the meeting run efficiently, especially in managing public comment. I've seen our chairs (we've had two in my time here) operate inefficiently at times--we once had a two hour conversation on the use of should vs shall in the bylaws-- but they are both usually pretty good. Sometimes there are just so many issues that the Board members disagree on and will have a lengthy discussion on actual merits. I don't see too much harm in late meetings if the discussion is fruitful and to the point, but as I noted, our City Council is now asking for a policy that would prevent even fruitful conversations from going late.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    If you go to a format which pushes an item to the next scheduled meeting be sure you are not violating any state laws which would require a decision rendered within x amount of days from submittal. I worked in a jurisdiction where we had to have 3 meetings in a month, 2 scheduled and 1 called, several times as they would run into the wee hours of the morning and the remaining items were tabled to the called meeting. Commission members, staff and the public tend to get restless after being in a room for more than 4 hours from my experience.

  8. #8
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    for Planning Board -

    we have a one hour time limit for all agenda items - they can vote to go further if there is a due process question (as in, did they do anything for that hour, did they make any progress) and our meetings end at the 4 hour mark with a check on the agenda at 2 hours

    we haven't been that busy for the last year or so but the rules came in handy when there were alot of items on the agenda!

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    You could just allow much more staff approval of development plans.

    Or the comment time limits with specifically delineated sunset times was workable at the places I worked.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  10. #10
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    We also allow 3 minutes max for public comments and have no problems continuing items to the next meeting if the meeting gets much past 10:30 (we start at 7).
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  11. #11
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    You could just allow much more staff approval of development plans.

    Or the comment time limits with specifically delineated sunset times was workable at the places I worked.
    Serious question: do your state laws allow some of these decisions to be made by Commissions, or even administration, rather than at City Council? For example, can subidivision related decisions be done with your Planning Commission acting as final approval authority rather than simply recommending to City Council? Can some subdivision related decisions be made administratively, such as approval of plats that do not involve extension of roads, are less than a certain number of lots, etc.? A prior city I worked for pushed this to the limit of state law, and it resulted in a far more efficient development process, happier staff and substantially shorter meetings. That could make a world of difference in the length of your agendas, and improve your processing times for mundane things like plats that often have state law mandates regarding time to make a decision. Also, taking ministerial functions like plat approval out of the political realm is generally a good thing.

    I'd also suggest looking at rules of decorum to see if those can be improved--that can be a frequent cause of long meetings. Likewise, look at adopting time limits for public comment (we use 3 minutes here). This can be controversial at first, but people will adapt and you'll get more effective, concise public comments without all of the fluff & grandstanding. Look into your meeting rules: do they have provisions that allow members to 'call the vote' and end prolonged discussion/grandstanding by members?

    Is there a nearby city that runs really efficient meetings? Arrange to have your mayor/chair go observe how their meetings are run.

    Take a look at the contents of the staff report. Are you getting the same question frequently? Perhaps you can head that off by altering the staff report content. Are they going off-topic? Make your city attorney earn his money a little and have him come talk about open meetings requirements and the need to stay within the subject of the agenda item.

    And if you've got money-obcessed Council members, it can be fun to actually develop a cost-per-hour for the meeting based on staff present, facility costs, etc. Kinda snarky, but it could help.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  12. #12
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I posted the "admin approval" semi-seriously. There may not be the political will, but it sounds like TPP's muni needs to seriously review it's processes for bottle necks and it sounds like the commission is a major issue. I presume TPP has a mandatory board/commission review process for development review

    At the last place I worked which was having a tremendous amount of residential teardowns happening (in 2005 esp.) every proposal had to go to the Design Commission for review and to permit the demolition of the existing structure. Well, the agendas were backing up significantly, so the Director will the blessing of the Manager and the Electeds created an administrative approval path if a proposal met certain criteria. It worked wonderfully and made everyone much happier.

    Maybe TPP needs some thresholds that determine when a project is required to go the public hearing process or can just be approved administratively.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ThePinkPlanner's avatar
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    Thanks! Many good ideas.

    Last year we reviewed our procedures for which items could be completed administratively. We were able to lower this threshold and our zoning administrator now handles projects under a certain square footage requirement, items not requesting waivers of strict standards, boundary line adjustments, etc. Still, it sounds like it will be worth re-visiting.

    Rules of decorum- good suggestions also. I'll talk to the Chair about that. Right now, only the chair calls votes on items. Maybe we can get others to speak up. Also, I think a 3 minute time limit on public comment sounds reasonable.

    I'm interested in hearing more about the one hour limit per agenda item. This sounds fair and reasonable. Has it worked well? If a project needs so much discussion that it could go on past an hour in a meeting, it likely needs more work and could use the continuance.

    One thing we do that helps, though does require reminders, is to tell the Board that they are there to REVIEW projects, not re-design them. If they don't like something, I try to remind them to state the reasons for why and the direction to fix. Too much, "well what about moving this here" gets tedious and takes time.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    3 minute limits per comment is pretty common around here, along with requests to not have redundant comments (that are sometimes actually followed in the more civilized suburbs ). Dallas Council often does 15 minutes total per side (expanded to 30 for very contentious items) since they already have all-day meetings, and things should have gotten a thorough airing at CPC anyways.

  15. #15
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    our 1 hour rule works fine - if it's a contentious meeting, sometimes we hold a meeting just for that agenda item - the board also votes to extend the time if need be as well

    the key is I tell them they have to DO something in that hour or there's trouble with the applicant - like clear up storm water questions, review legal documents, etc. - something has to be accomplished in that hour

  16. #16
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ok....

    Hold a work/study session during the day before the night meeting to fully inform the council about each project and staff recommendations. This meeting will be published and fully noticed and open to the public/applicant to attend, but NOT SPEAK. This way you get a clean presentation by staff of the facts, without getting forced off track by someone elses agenda (interupted). The public that attends will have a clear idea about the case and may not even need to attend the hearing. The applicant will be better prepared for questions raised by the council for staff review prior to the meeting. I've worked in this system and presented to this system and I MUCH prefer it to the single meeting format.

    Also, if your city has a first and second reading of an ordinance on land use issues, use a work/study session before the first reading, have the first reading and make the second reading approval a consent item.
    Skilled Adoxographer

  17. #17
    Cyburbian developmentguru's avatar
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    Our city moved the meetings to the daytime - we start at 10 and are always done by 5. We stream the meetings online so staff can have it running in the background and know when to leave to run over and present. It sounds chaotic, but it actually works really well.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    During the development boom, my former employer oftentimes had Plan Commission meetings that would extend well past midnight. They amended their Rules of Procedure to not hear any new business after 10:30 pm. That coupled with a Chairman who was not afraid to keep control and people's comments on topic helped shorten the meetings.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Start the meeting at 6pm and change the request to speak to a sign in sheet where people can sign in "for or "agianst" and if they request to speak the can check "if necessary."

    The "if necessary" part forces the charge to ask the person if they want to speak. Hopefully they can also be trained to ask the person if their point has already been made then not to speak. You would be surprised at the number of people that would normally speak that now check the "if necessary" box.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  20. #20
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Do you have a work session each month? We have one here for our planning board and it mitigates this issue to a large extent. If not, is simply adjourning to the following month an option for cases which are clearly at an impasse at that particular meeting? Meetings lasting much beyond 10-10:30pm are unheard of here and for board members that have day jobs, getting home at 1am would be (and should be) flat out unacceptable.

    IMO, one of the reasons for a community to have in-house planning staff is to manage the board's workflow so as to ensure that absurdly late board meetings don't happen.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    Do you have a work session each month? ...IMO, one of the reasons for a community to have in-house planning staff is to manage the board's workflow so as to ensure that absurdly late board meetings don't happen.
    Quote Originally posted by rcgplanner View post
    They amended their Rules of Procedure to not hear any new business after 10:30 pm. That coupled with a Chairman who was not afraid to keep control and people's comments on topic helped shorten the meetings.
    Lessee...competent staff, Chairperson with stones...rules that state the meeting won't drag on...that's it right there in a nutshell. Step up. Lead.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian kltoomians's avatar
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    We have a 10-15min recess at 8pm. If we hit 10pm, the chairperson has the commissioners vote on whether or not they want to continue. They continue to vote every hour. The chairperson usually reads this rule at the start of the meeting, so everyone knows the deal. Weather is usually taken into account...especially if the public has to drive 50mi+ in the snow/ice.
    "I'm a boomerang, doesn't matter how you throw me
    I turn around and I'm back in the game
    Even better than the old me"

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    We had been meeting at 7PM, changed it to 6 PM so the meetings could end sooner. We limit speakers to 5 minutes, other than applicants and appelants. One of the greatest incentives to ending a meeting is the fact that all the lights in city hall go off automatically at 11PM. When they shut off it sends a pretty clear message that things are going on too long. We can turn them back on in the council chambers, but it has had the effect of suggesting that things be wrapped up.

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