Late night

I blame the lateness of the hour for someone on the council dais suggesting that a retaining wall designed to mitigate flooding include “breaks” to “engage the street.”

The comment came during a concept plan we were asked to review that didn’t being on our overstuffed agenda until after 11:30 p.m. We were all tuckered out, and civility and information processing had begun to fray. The person on the dais did not understand that a retaining wall would not be visible from the street and would have to be continuous to hold back water and soil to protect a row of townhouses — built about 15 feet below grade on a downhill slope from the street — from flooding.

By the time I got in my car to go home after our council meeting and closed session last week, it was 12:30 in the morning. We don’t make our best decisions when we are that tired. Concept plans, always last on the agenda, introduce proposed developments that affect the quality of life of residents. It undermines transparency if we require community members to stay until midnight to hear a presentation and make their 3-minute comment.

In recent months, council has reduced the number of meetings without reducing the number of issues we take up. We pack agendas, and meetings routinely run past 11:30 p.m. That shuts out the public who have days that begin early, babysitters to pay and responsibilities outside of keeping tabs on council. Without input from the public, we make decisions in a vacuum.

Most council members work full time, but we knew the council workload before we filed to run for office. If we spread out our agenda items over four meetings a month, instead of cramming the issues into only three meetings a month, we likely would end before 10 p.m., which was typical of council meetings in prior years.

There is considerable value to having residents listen to a presentation in real time and offer comments before council begins to discuss. When those presentations begin later than when we might reasonably expect people to stay, we inadvertently restrict public comment. That’s not a healthy democracy.

We’re spending taxpayers’ money; we’re making decisions that affect residents’ quality of life. We owe it to the public to include them in the decision-making process by taking up issues at a reasonable hour.

— Nancy Oates

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