COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council on Monday discussed a solution to extremely long meetings.
The Sept. 3 council meeting — which adjourned at 3:02 a.m. on Sept. 4 — was still fresh in council members' minds. The Aug. 19 meeting ended at 1:44 a.m.
Speaking at Monday's pre-council meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid called the eight-hour meeting on Sept. 3 an "aberration" that arose because of a couple of controversial issues that happened to land on the same meeting agenda.
That night, the council discussed rezoning an area north of Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and the city's licensing of compressed natural gas trucks, both of which drew long lines of public commentors.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala suggested that the council and city staff should work to anticipate which issues will draw many comments and schedule accordingly.
"It's incumbent on us to schedule these things so that people don't have to wait to talk about these issues at midnight," Skala said. "We can't have more than two controversial issues in one meeting."
Some issues have been delayed as long as two months to make time for them, City Manager Mike Matthes said. But he acknowledged that the staff doesn't always guess right, as in the case of the compressed gas trucks.
When hot-button issues are on the agenda and the public queues up for comments, McDavid said he intends to be more assertive enforcing the time limits: Five minutes for anyone representing an interest group involved in the issue and three minutes for everyone else. He also said he would ask people to refrain from repetitive commentary, though he won't prevent it.
Several council members — Skala, Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser — want to relieve the mayor of the responsibility of keeping time. McDavid uses the timer app on his iPhone, which sounds a xylophone alert when the time is up.
They suggested having a city staff members do the job or installing a timer on the podium with lights to alert speakers of their remaining time.
The "elephant in the room," First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said, is the same three or four people who come to every council meeting and speak about every issue.
"We can all name — and it's a matter of public record — who those people are," Schmidt said. The frequent speakers tend to be the most flagrant violators of the rules, he said.
McDavid encouraged council members to remind their particularly passionate constituents that anybody who collects enough signatures — 20 percent of the number of votes in the last mayor's election, or about 2,600 — can add an issue to the ballot.
Matthes pointed out that several council members "really like" the public comment system the way it is.
"I would say that 'really like it' is maybe overstating it," McDavid said.
The council ended the pre-council meeting 15 minutes early.
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