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Members have different views on lengthy meetings

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 by Jo Clifton

At City Council’s Tuesday work session, when a conversation about expanding the time allowed for public comment and Council meetings morphed into one about how lengthy those meetings are, Council members Ellen Troxclair, Delia Garza and Pio Renteria showed their different perspectives. “I think we really need to admit that we have not met the objective of reducing the length of our Council meetings,” Troxclair said, referring to an audit showing that the previous Council spent more time meeting than councils in other cities. “I’m really concerned about the time that we spend in meetings for multiple reasons,” she said. She added, “One of the biggest reasons that we have such long Council meetings is because of the way that we handle public input,” and one of the biggest reasons that Council moved to a committee system was to handle public input. Since that change, she said, “we’re kind of in a black hole where we’re neither here nor there – and even 10 o’clock is too late. If we’re going to start our meetings at 10 a.m. and not end until 10 p.m., 12 hours is not a reasonable amount of time for us to expect the public to sit there waiting for the item. … And it’s not a reasonable amount of time to expect us to be able to be present and paying attention and making good decisions.” She concluded that she didn’t know the answer but that “we need to figure something out.” Garza said that Council needs to think of the public and noted that, “every time we’ve gone after 10, almost every speaker has thanked us for staying there. They haven’t really complained about having to be there – because I’ve been in those seats past 10 o’clock, past midnight, and I’ve been in the Legislature late. That’s what you do when you care about an issue.” Renteria said, “I have no problem with staying up late. I’m kind of a person that enjoys staying up late anyway, so there’s other people there, residents of Austin, and they want to spend midnight with me – I just love that.” He reminded his colleagues of the hearing that did not end until 5 a.m. for the SOS Ordinance in 1990. “That’s the way Austin is,” he said. “I ran for this position knowing that there’s going to be times where I’m going to be up here until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, because you can’t take that away from the citizens.”

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