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Council settles on format for work sessions

Thursday, March 3, 2011 by Michael Kanin

After three weeks of back-and-forth, the Austin City Council decided on a format for its regular work sessions yesterday. Beginning next week, the events will take place on Tuesday mornings of the weeks that Council has a meeting. They will start at 9am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall.


Council members also decided on how they will approach those meetings. At the suggestion of City Manager Marc Ott, the Council will post “pre-selected” items from that week’s regular Council agenda but reserve the right to discuss any other item listed there.


“Under this scenario, we would not staff the Work Session for the entire agenda, but only for those pre-selected agenda items,” Ott wrote in a memo to Council. “However, understanding that last minute questions can come up, we would ensure that the posting language would allow you to bring up any item on your Regular City Council agenda at your Work Session.”


Ott has expressed concern that the events might take up an extensive chunk of city management’s time (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 10). He told In Fact Daily, however, that it is still too early to tell what sort of effect the work sessions would have on his team.


“Obviously, it’s going to entail more work for us; we’re doing something that we weren’t doing before,” he said. “It will require us to review what we anticipate being on the agenda probably a little earlier than before … I don’t have a clear picture of the sequencing but I certainly know that we’re going to have to spend some time as an executive team making sure that we have fully vetted prospective (requests for Council action) earlier than we have in the past.”


Ott said that he was “pleased” that the Council had worked some flexibility into their new meetings. “But what’s important to me and the staff is that we want to do everything that we can to accommodate the Council,” he added.


Council Member Randi Shade offered a routine that would add to Ott’s attempts to minimize the work sessions’ impact on staff. She called for the Council to take agenda items first and the posted, pre-selected issues first among these. Those would be followed by any discussion that Council members might want to have with one another and any briefings that the body had requested.


Maintaining robust communications with Council colleagues is important, said Shade. “I just think about when I would have a one-on-one with (Council Member Morrison) in the past, we would talk about items we would want to work on,” she said. “I don’t want to lose the opportunity to do that.”


The new work session format passed with a unanimous vote.

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