City Council: Committee meetings now twice monthly

By Brian Soergel | May 12, 2017

If you can’t get it right, keep trying.

That seems to be the position of the Edmonds City Council, which recently changed – again – the way its meetings will be held.

The skinny: The first and third Tuesdays of the month are set aside for full council meetings, videotaped for TV and online viewing. Meeting minutes are then posted on Fridays. The second and fourth Tuesdays are now for committee meetings.

The meetings will not be videotaped, although the audio will be recorded.

According to City Council President Thomas Mesaros, what transpires at the meetings will be highlighted by notes, available on Fridays, instead of offering a full accounting of minutes.

The new format conforms to Washington state law, according to City Attorney Jeff Taraday.

City Clerk Scott Passey said that, at this point, audio recordings will be available to the public upon request. “I don’t believe we have the capability to post multiple audio files to the website, but I’m still looking into the possibilities,” he said.

Suggestion: If you plan to attend, learn what’s on the agenda and select the meeting that interests you most.

The new structure replaces the current practice (which replaced the previous council/committee meeting structure), approved in July 2015, to set full council meetings four Tuesdays a month. The first and third meetings were called business meetings, and the second and fourth work meetings.

After being discussed at a council retreat in January – where councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Moniallas and Kristiana Johnson were absent – councilmembers approved the new structure in April, and the first of the committee meetings was held Tuesday, May 9. It was preceded by a short council session, but Mesaros said it’s likely future committee meetings will not.

Why the change?

At the January retreat, Mesaros said that “recent practice has been to mix business and study topics.”

This week, Mesaros said that the return to committee meetings would provide more time for detailed discussion with staff directors and make council meetings more efficient. The committees are broken into three groups:

Finance Committee: Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, chair, and Councilmember Dave Teitzel. Meets in council chambers.

Parks, Planning and Public Works Committee: Councilmember Neil Tibbott, chair, and Councilmember Kristiana Johnson. Meets in jury meeting room.

Public Safety and Personnel Committee: Councilmember Mike Nelson, Chair, and Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. Meets in police training room.

As previously, the public is invited to attend any of the committee meetings, but there will not be time set aside for public comment. Mesaros, appointed to City Council in April 2014 after the resignation of Frank Yamamoto, said that one of the reasons committee meetings were cancelled in 2015 was that “there was too much public interaction during meetings.”

“When City Council and staff were discussing things, the public would interject and get in the way of this,” he said. “That’s a meeting management problem, not a committee problem. If people speak, they will be ruled out of order.”

Mesaros stressed that committees can only make recommendations for full council approval, so any committee action will have to be forwarded to the full council for final approval. “We are not making decisions behind closed doors,” he said. “They will go into the consent agenda, and councilmembers can pull the item off the agenda if there is a concern or more discussion is needed. The real change is that not everyone on the council has to hear about the hiring of someone to sell excess vehicles, for example.

“That’s not a full council discussion. A committee can have that discussion. I’m pleased that Diane Buckshnis and Dave Teitzel are on the finance committee. These people know how to go through things with a fine-toothed comb. They have a different skill set than I have.”

Mesaros said his career as an executive for nonprofit organizations has led him to believe that those with committees can get more done than those without. “They function better and higher level. I would like to see our City Council operate at that same high level.”

Buckshnis, a councilmember since 2009, said, “I am pleased we have moved back to committees, as there were many policy issues and financial planning issues that were not given full council consideration because of the many time-consuming projects the council has worked on these past couple of years.

“I am uncertain if the public will like the two business meeting format or if council will have time to do some intense ‘work session’ items that former councils used to handle on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

“As an example, there are specific items such as the budget, critical ordinances, code revisions, the capital improvement and capital facilities plans, comprehensive planning and formalizing policies that will require full council participation after being vetted in council committees.

“Personally, I am still opposed to codifying this format, as it is still untested. Having said that, we can always revisit the code and change it back to the long-standing process of two business meetings, one committee night and one work meeting.”

Mayor Dave Earling said that, when the city previously had committee meetings, he would ask managers if they wanted him to attend.

“I would try to move from one meeting to the other,” he said. “When we used to have committees, I would be at the meetings almost every time. The council should be doing what they want to do. And if they want committees, I’m supportive of that.”


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