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Four ways to make your city council meeting more efficient

Running smooth, efficient city council meetings is a source of pride for most mayors. Still, these gatherings often have a packed agenda requiring lots of discussion. Sprinkle in some tangents and questions – and the meeting has the ingredients to extend two or three hours beyond its scheduled running time.

In other words – too long.

Even though long meetings are too often accepted as the norm, we need to acknowledge that drawn-out meetings are bad public policy for several reasons, mainly (but not limited to):

  • People can lose the focus and attention needed to make good decisions on important issues
  • Meetings that regularly run longer than expected are a deterrent to keeping residents involved and serving on the council

Those committed to serving on a council know the time investment and understand that local policy-making is a collaborative activity. They also know how important each detail is to the community. And, as it should be, they’re all open to sharing their own opinions.

So what’s the best way to power through a meeting with a packed agenda and lots of public input?

We asked our engineers who attend monthly city council meetings to tell us how the most efficient meetings are managed. Here are their top three tips:

Set an agenda with time limits

All meetings have, or should have, an agenda. Assigning an allotted time for each item will help the group stay on schedule. If more discussion is necessary, assign it to the appropriate committee to iron out and make a recommendation at the next meeting.

Set up separate committees

Form committees for different departments – sewer and water, garbage, landfill, etc. – so smaller groups can meet throughout the month, discuss details, work out the kinks and return to the council with reasoned recommendations.

Consider a consent agenda (or consent calendar), when possible

A consent agenda allows the council to approve all items together without individual motions. This is best done for items on the agenda that don’t require discussion or debate.

To start using a consent agenda, the council should first adopt a rule of order allowing for the consent agenda process. Make sure all council members know what items belong on the agenda and how to move items to and from the consent agenda.

Use Robert’s Rules of Order

This is obvious, but formal rules of order are too often ignored or abandoned. If you’re going to conduct public meetings, it’s important to understand how to conduct public meetings. Knowing the parliamentary procedure isn’t enough. Enforcing it is key. A mayor must be able and willing to keep the meeting clipping along.

Applying these tips to your city council meetings can boost efficiency, making government stronger and more accountable — the best approaches we can think of to tackle the challenges of modern city governance.

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