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.
At last Friday’s work session held by Bloomington’s city council, councilmember Steve Volan announced that he would be submitting a new ordinance for consideration that would “set a hard limit for all meetings to five and a half hours.”
Volan’s proposal to make city council meeting length a matter of local law comes after a record-setting nine-hour city council meeting that took place in early March.
On Friday, Volan added, “I don’t know when leadership would like to take that up. I’d like to see it taken up as soon as possible.”
I’d like to see Volan’s proposed ordinance ignored by the council’s leadership.
Consideration of such an ordinance would count as a distraction from a more pressing need—to address the kind of basic procedural dysfunctions that plague Bloomington’s city council.
Council vice president Sue Sgambelluri, who chaired the proceedings, wrapped up just before adjournment: “OK. Heartfelt thanks, particularly to the public who stayed with us this long.”
How long was it? The CATS recording has a duration of 9 hours 4 minutes and 28 seconds, which put the hour of adjournment around 3:35 a.m.
As the clock ticked towards 3 a.m., former city clerk Regina Moore tweeted at current city clerk Nicole Bolden that the meeting rivaled one in the 1990s that lasted until 3 a.m. It involved human rights.
Wednesday’s meeting was extended by debate and public commentary on an ordinance that was also written with an eye towards protecting human rights—of those who are experiencing homelessness. The council voted 4–4 this week, which meant the ordinance failed.
In January 2020, the next edition of Bloomington’s common council will take office.
The first law passed by the new nine-member local legislature should be called the “Last Call Public Transit Time Ordinance.”
The new law would require that city council meetings end before the last public bus of the day leaves the general area of downtown and city hall, where city council meetings are held.
It would help ensure that people who rely on public transportation can attend city council meetings and stay until the end. It would also encourage councilmembers maintain some basic knowledge about Bloomington Transit bus schedules.
But here’s the most important consequence of the law: For councilmembers who think longer meetings are essential to doing the People’s business, the law creates an incentive to find the money to run buses later.
Note: “Hey Wait a Minute” is an occasional B Square Beacon series that highlights meeting minutes and other documentation of local government meetings in the Bloomington, Indiana area.
At the most recent meeting of Bloomington’s city council, on July 31, councilmember Allison Chopra offered some candid commentary on the length of the meeting.
Chopra said in part: “…it’s 9:45 p.m. I am leaving this meeting at 10:30, regardless of how long it goes, because I need to sleep at night. … There is absolutely no reason why we should be having a meeting that lasts more than four hours …”
The criticism that councilmember Chopra expressed at the meeting—of her colleagues and herself—was serious business. I think it’s worth watching Chopra’s remarks as she made them, in their entirety.