EDITORIAL: Yakety yak council meetings outlast New York's, Chicago's

By: The Gazette editorial
April 16, 2014 Updated: April 16, 2014 at 10:02 pm
photo - City Council president Keith King, center, and other members of the Colorado Springs City Council have been holding meetings that last up to 14 hours.
City Council president Keith King, center, and other members of the Colorado Springs City Council have been holding meetings that last up to 14 hours. 

The City Council met for 13 hours. The April 8 session came one day after the council met informally for more than five hours. That's 18 hours in just two days. A meeting in November lasted 14 hours. Routine marathon sessions have resulted in no substantive progress for residents.

This is not rational behavior for politicians in a large city with a mayor-council government. The council of New York, population 8.3 million, meets twice a month. Council members vote on policy matters that have been vetted and fine-tuned by committees. We asked New York City Council staff member Kevin Pynn how long meetings last.

"About an hour," Pynn said.

Gazette: "Really? Do they ever go longer?"

Pynn: "Sometimes a little. Not too often."

Gazette: "Do they ever go, say, 14 hours?"

Pynn: Laughter. "No. Nothing like that."

Gazette: "Ever?"

Pynn: "Nope. Not to my knowledge."

Not buying the one-hour claim, we watched the April 10 meeting of the New York City Council. It lasted 57 minutes and 36 seconds, including six minutes for roll call and opening prayer. It was professional, orderly and down to business. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito routinely silenced rambling politicians with a gavel and an order of "quiet."

The Chicago City Council, in a mayor-council city, meets once a month and takes a break in August. Peter Polacek, managing editor of the "City Council Journal" for the council, told us meetings go from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. — 2 hours and 30 minutes once each month.

"On rare occasions, we've had some really contentious meetings that have gone three or three-and-a-half hours," Polacek told us.

The Memphis (Tenn.) Business Journal characterized a Memphis City Council meeting in December as a "marathon" that was clearly unusual. It went from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. — eight hours shorter than a recent council meeting in the Springs.

Our community cannot move forward because the council spends days and weeks on issues that should take minutes. Council members try to manage when their role is to legislate. Freshman members make sport of simple planning decisions, tripping up people with desires to expand or establish job-creating businesses. They invent false dilemmas — government might take our homes — and spend hours trying to solve them. They overwork confirmations of volunteer nominees to advisory boards. They talk-talk-talk and grandstand for the camera.

Families of city politicians and staff members sit home as their fathers, mothers and spouses spend hours discussing goat regulations and imaginary condemnations. Community residents cannot witness government at work unless they stay up half the night to sit through excruciatingly boring amounts of make-work dialogue and process.

Our legislative branch is in crisis, and it makes our community look bad. No one with a business plan wants to deal with a council that micromanages simple land-use matters in meetings that go past midnight. They'll take their plans somewhere else.

City Council, snap out of it and govern as legislators of a large American city. Work efficiently and focus on what matters. That's how the pros do it, in business and the hallowed chambers of successful cities everywhere.

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