Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings

On a 7–2 vote at its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council enacted an ordinance that is intended to prevent its meetings from lasting longer than five and a half hours, or going past midnight.

Dissenting were council president Jim Sims and Susan Sandberg. The ordinance was authored by councilmember Steve Volan.

When it was first introduced on Sept. 1, the ordinance had wording that could be interpreted as putting an automatic end to city council meetings after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

The wording on first introduction also allowed any single councilmember to cause a meeting to be adjourned after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

On Wednesday, Volan offered the council two mutually exclusive possible amendments.

One amendment made explicit the automatic termination of meetings when either of the the time points were reached.

The other alternative required at least two councilmembers in order to force an end to a meeting—one to move for adjournment and another to second the motion.

That’s the amendment that the council adopted for the ordinance that it eventually passed.

That means the ordinance as enacted does not require an end to meetings after five and a half hours or at midnight. It just gives any two councilmembers the option of ending a meeting at those time points. Meetings will be able to continue past those times without remark or action by councilmembers.

The ordinance came as a reaction to the council’s meeting seven months ago, on March 3, which went past 3:30 a.m.

Volan said on Wednesday, “We had a meeting that went till 3:30 in the morning, which set an all time record by literally an hour and a half. And I just don’t want to see that happen again.”

Volan added, “I would say that upon passage of this ordinance, the clerk and her staff will thank you, the public will thank you, the administration and staff will thank you, and again, paraphrasing George M. Cohan, I will thank you.”

Countering Volan was Sims, who said, “I have talked to many of those folks that you mentioned that would thank you—and I just want to let you know that that is not the case. At least from what I’m getting.”

The length of the March 3 meeting stemmed from the fact that Sims was absent that night, due to a family tragedy. The remaining councilmembers were split 4–4 on the main question of an ordinance enacting protections for homeless encampments. They were also split on procedural issues.

Sims said, “I still do not see that this legislation is needed or necessary.” He added, “We have different tools in order to end meetings. And any councilmember…can move to adjourn at any time.”

Sims also alluded to the 10-minute speech Volan gave at the during report time at the council’s meeting two weeks after the March 3 marathon session.

From Volan’s remarks on March 17:

My colleagues, who consistently…claim…to be prepared for issues that come before us were, I believe, supremely unprepared to prevent this catastrophe of procedure, which was entirely of their making. …If they do not know procedure well enough to prevent the council meeting from going nine hours straight, they’re not upholding their duty as council members.”

On Wednesday, Sims said, “After that meeting, there was a council comment that, to me, bordered on almost character assassination of some of the colleagues.”

Sims said there was blame placed on one side, adding, “We do know there were a couple mechanisms and tools that could have ended that meeting a lot earlier, if it was chosen by those in attendance or those present.”

After Sims commented, councilmember Piedmont-Smith questioned whether there was any procedural mechanism available, given that the council was split 4–4.

Sims responded by saying, “If one side had basically not been involved, there would not have been a quorum and the meeting would have stopped.” Sims added, “Again, I’m not saying it’s desirable.”

Depriving the remaining members of sufficient numbers to continue—by leaving a meeting—was basically the maneuver used in 2011, when Democrats in Indiana’s state house of representatives, denied the Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a right-to-work bill.

In support of the ordinance, Piedmont-Smith said, “I think it’s a wise move to make it more likely that we will limit our time in deliberation in council meetings, because I do feel strongly the quality of our decision making declines as the evening wears on.”

2 thoughts on “Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings

  1. Does anyone else find it ironic that my friend Steve Volan advocates for shorter meetings?

    1. No. Actually I don’t. Recess and adjournment are *things* and expecting anyone to be able to make a good decision after 9 straight hours of deliberation before voting is nearly impossible. This wasn’t a court proceeding where we all had months to prepare. This was a city council meeting where the public spoke off the cuff for MANY MANY HOURS. There is no way without going and rewatching that 9 hour hell hole of a meeting that you can even catch what everyone says. Maxing out your critical thinking by being exhausted is absolutely a thing.

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