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Council members look for ways to shorten weekly meetings

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 by Jenny Blair

Mindful of citizens forced to wait long hours to testify – and perhaps hoping to catch at least a few hours of sleep themselves – Austin City Council members hashed out ways Tuesday to end this Thursday’s meeting a little earlier.


As the Council work session wound up, Council Member Kathie Tovo asked that they discuss how to handle the long Thursday City Council Meeting agenda. Recent meetings have run well into the wee hours.


City Attorney Karen Kennard told the council that under the Open Meetings Act, they could decide Thursday to adjourn until the next day without reposting.


They also have the option to waive their own rules and take up some items in a different order – such as moving up hot-button items that will draw a lot of public testimony.


“I’m going to contemplate asking the Council to consider taking those items up early in the evening,” said Council Member Mike Martinez. “Last week we took up a bunch of agenda items that had no speakers signed up. It took time.”


Martinez suggested that if they aim to recess and reconvene Friday, they could consider items with few speakers signed up either late Thursday or during the work day Friday morning. That’s assuming popular items are already done.


“Folks that are signed up on these items (to speak), it’s not going to sit well if they are here all day long and then we recess,” Martinez pointed out.


The council agreed to make three hot-button items time-certain: urban rail at 4 p.m., opposition to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Secure Communities program at 7 p.m., and flood buyouts at 7:15.


Traditional 6 p.m. and 6:15 time-certain pegs aren’t feasible due to live music and pronouncements, so council members agreed to shift them an hour later.


One snag: four council members are expected at a 10 a.m. Friday meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to hire a new executive director, according to Council Member Chris Riley. Riley said that if they expect to spill over into Friday, they will need to talk to CAMPO about scheduling.


With these changes, Council members hope to recess around midnight Thursday and resume work the next day on items that draw less public input. They will have to make the changes on the day of the meeting along with the Mayor. Kennard said she would create a motion.

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