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Packed Colorado Springs City Council agenda might be streamlined

April 14, 2014 Updated: April 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

The clock struck midnight on April 8, and Colorado Springs City Council was still in session.

The council convened at 11:30 a.m. in City Hall for a planning session and went into its regular meeting at 1 p.m. There was a short dinner break and then the council hunkered down for a five-hour public hearing for which nearly two dozen people had been waiting.

"They shouldn't build such a big agenda," said G.W. Flanders, a resident who waited all day for an appeal hearing on a gun club off Garden of the Gods Road. "They should limit it - if they can't reasonably get it done by 7 p.m. then put some items off."

At least two council members will press the rest of the council to reconsider how it packs its agenda and how it structures public hearings. They say the long meetings have diminishing return.

Council member Merv Bennett said the council needs to take a hard look at how many items are put on a single agenda and decide if a long meeting is in the best interests of the council and the public. Further, he said, the council needs to consider how it conducts public hearings and whether there should be time limits on presentations.

The appellants of a gun club were allowed more than two hours to present their case. The hearing came at the end of a meeting where council members voted to spend $2 million on road repairs, gave the Colorado Springs Utilities CEO a $100,000 pay raise phased in over three years, made minor changes to the Utilities watering restrictions policy and heard a proposal to tighten the city's eminent domain policy.

"You get mentally exhausted after that time," Bennett said. "I really believe absolutely every council member did the best to stay focused and make the best decisions."

It wasn't this council's first marathon meeting. In November, the council met for more than 14 hours. That day started at 9 a.m. with nonprofit groups giving testimony on the Colorado Springs Utilities Community Investment Fund.

"I don't think the previous council had any better track record," Bennett said. "This has been an issue for at least the three years I've been on council. We need to discuss what is the most effective way to accomplish good public policy that is fair and reasonable to all sides involved."

The issue of agenda planning and long meetings was broached during the council's recent retreat, said council member Val Snider. But nothing was done about it, he said.

He will ask the council to consider a rule for public hearings that no new information be introduced. Rather, the council will hear an appeal on the same information that the planning commission heard.

Snider said some of the problem could be solved if the council stayed focused on the issue at hand.

"If you ask me, the meetings are not managed much, they just kind of happen," he said. "Everyone is allowed to stray off topic. It seems to go all over."

Council President Keith King, who sets the agendas, said he tries to balance the agenda, but he cannot predict how long a public hearing will last. And he does not want to limit discussion, especially on land-use issues where there is a great deal of passion, he said.

"We gave plenty of time to ask all the questions and fully vet the issue," he said.

King said packing the agenda for a 12-hour meeting is not the norm. He included the gun club hearing because the appeals had been postponed from a previous meeting.

King, a former state lawmaker, said he felt good about last week's meeting because council members were bringing proposed laws to the council, such as council member Joel Miller's proposal to restrict the city's use of condemnation.

"Council is finally coming into its own," King said.

Miller was not fazed by the long meeting either.

"For me, I prefer to get the business done," Miller said. "Those hearings on land use take a long time - it's just got to be done."

The council's next work session is 1 p.m. April 21. It will meet in a planning meeting at 11:30 a.m. April 22 and have its regular meeting at 1 p.m. that day.

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