Council votes less meetings, criticism comes about where that leaves the power

Published 2:56 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Bainbridge City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to decrease the number of times they meet each month.
Currently the council meets six times per quarter — twice each month on alternating Tuesdays. Councilwoman Glennie Bench brought up the possibility Tuesday of reducing the number of council meetings to four times each quarter — roughly once each month, with an additional meeting per quarter to focus on financial issues based on doing what is best with city resources.
While Bench said she initiated the conversation Tuesday to gauge the opinion of the council, two council members who were not present feel the discussion came up in the meeting specifically because of their absence.
“I think on nights like tonight where we only have one agenda item and it ended up being two — that in itself is a waste of tax payer money to meet more frequently than is necessary,” Bench said Tuesday to the council. “It wastes the staff’s time and it is a waste of overall resources.”
Bench said she believes the newly approved schedule of meeting once a month with an additional meeting each quarter for financial discussions is a, “better use of the city’s resources,” and a better use of the community’s time.
She noted she and other council members had monitored the course of agenda items for the last several months and it seemed clear to her that agendas repeatedly had one to two agenda items.
The two council members who were not present have historically been against changing the meeting schedule when the topic was brought up at the council retreat last year.
Council members Luther Conyers and Roslyn Palmer attended the address by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Bainbridge State College and were unable to make the meeting. For Palmer it was the third meeting she had missed in 27 years of serving on the council.
Conyers said he felt the motion to change the schedule Tuesday when he was not present was “a contrived plot.”
Palmer had similar sentiments calling the vote, “a low blow.”
“It is certainly not the ingredients for teamwork among the council,” Palmer said. “I felt before, and still feel, that two meetings a month is not an inconvenience and our citizens deserve their representatives to assemble as a body twice a month.”
Conyers said he not only disagreed with the way the motion was brought up, but with the idea of reducing meetings.
“If we go to once a month we lose more control over what is being done,” Conyers said. “We are not a monarchy and we represent the people. And I don’t think the people of Bainbridge elected us to go and give up the operation of the city to two or three people. I think that is what would be done if we go to one meeting a month or less.”
Conyers’ concern is that less meetings would result in “calling council members to make individual decisions,” and this would result in less collective decisions by a council — shifting power from a collective group to individuals.
Bench said the motion was nothing she had discussed with others who were present at the council meeting prior to Tuesday evening. Bench said she warned Conyers there was a possibility it would be discussed Tuesday upon him saying he would not be present for the next meeting.
When asked why the item was not on the agenda, Bench was adamant she brought up the item to gauge the opinion of the council, and when she saw those present were in agreement, she made the motion.
Councilmember Phil Long said he did vote in favor for the change Tuesday, but felt the entire council should have been present for the decision.
“I certainly think we all should have been there to vote, but I do not have a problem with meeting only once a month,” Long said. “I think that we need to be really careful about voting on issues that are not on the agenda. I think that item should have been on the agenda. I think any item should be on the agenda for us to be able to prepare good questions and be able to vote in a good way. Why it was not on the agenda I do not know.”
When the motion was made Tuesday, Bench noted the change in schedule would be temporary, lasting for one year after the new schedule starts in April.
“If there are unintended consequences of this change then we can go back to it,” Bench said. “I think having watched the agenda items for the five years I have been on the council it’s very rare we have a meeting that has lasted an hour. The fact that we have always done this the same way is not necessarily a reason enough to continue to do it this way. I stand by my motion I think it is a better use of the city’s resources and a better use of the community’s time.”

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