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.
Introduced at last Wednesday’s Bloomington city council meeting was a possible new local law (Ordinance 21-34) that would attempt to put a time limit on city council meetings.
Probably every current and future Bloomington resident would welcome a world where the meetings of the local legislature did not last until 3:30 a.m.
Of course that’s exactly what happened on March 3 this year, when the city council debated an ordinance on protections for homeless encampments. The council was evenly split 4–4 on the substance of the issue, because one councilmember was absent due to a family tragedy.
Does Bloomington’s city council need yet another procedural tool, in order to avoid an overlong meeting like the one on March 3?
Of course not.
The council already has some tools that could have been used to do the job.
Should the Bloomington city council now invest any of its collective energy trying to repair the technical flaws in the proposed ordinance by considering amendments? No. The proposed ordinance cannot be salvaged through amendments.
The city council should instead start taking a hard look at the toxic procedural dysfunctions that often lead to 3-hour meetings that could have ended at the 2-hour mark. Or 2-hour meetings that could have ended after 45 minutes. Or committee meetings that need not have been scheduled in the first place.
Instead of wallowing in the mire of patch-wise procedural revisions, the city council should instead focus first on its actual business.