Coun­cil­man wants shorter dis­cus­sions

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Ni­cole Bar­rios ni­­rios@ac­n­news­pa­ Con­tact Ni­cole Bar­rios at 512-255-5827.

A Pflugerville City Coun­cil mem­ber is pos­ing the idea of curb­ing what he sees as ex­ces­sive con­ver­sa­tion at coun­cil meet­ings. At a March 14 coun­cil work ses­sion, Omar Peña sug­gested fixed time lim­its on agenda items, re­gard­less the topic.

“If it is pre­sented by staff, the public or some­thing we want to dis­cuss, they all get a time limit — the same time limit,” he said. “Some meet­ings we’re hit­ting it, we’re mov­ing along and we’re do­ing stuff,” he said. But in other meet­ings, he said, the coun­cil fo­cuses on things that may be too de­tailed or may not re­late to city pol­icy.

Peña sug­gested a 10- to 15-minute time limit per agenda item.

“That way we force the dis­ci­pline upon our­selves so that we have am­ple time to do our home­work, and this forces a dis­ci­pline on ev­ery­one else who comes be­fore us, be it staff, public or our­selves,” he said.

If­coun­cil mem­bers needed more back­ground on a par­tic­u­lar agenda item, he said, they could tag it be­fore the meet­ing and dis­cuss it with city staff ahead of time. For is­sues like dis­cussing city bud­get de­tails, greater timeal­lowances can be made, he said.

At­theMarch 14 work ses­sion, Peña’s sug­ges­tion re­ceived lit­tle sup­port.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Jeff Marsh said that if a coun­cil mem­ber wants to dis­cuss some­thing, it is their duty to be able to do so with­out a time limit.

“My con­cern is that you’re open­ing up a box and you don’t know what’s inside of it, the un­in­tended con­se­quences of do­ing some­thing like that,” Marsh said. “I don’t know if that’s a wise de­ci­sion to make.”

Coun­cil Mem­ber Doug Weis­sagreed with Marsh, say­ing the mayor should ul­ti­mately over­see how the meet­ing is con­ducted.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Mike Heath sug­gested the mayor of­fer guide­lines be­fore each agenda item such as keep­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions to a cer­tain length.

“I think we have a chance ofvi­o­lat­ing First Amend­ment rights,” Heath said. If meet­ings are that re­stric­tive, he said, it could en­cour­age coun­cil mem­bers to have “off­line con­ver­sa­tions” that could have legal reper­cus­sions.

Heath said he would rather keep dis­cus­sion open and hon­est and in the public view. On the topic of meet­ing pro­ce­dures, Heath sug­gested adding an in­vo­ca­tion at the start of meet­ings.

City At­tor­ney Ge­orge Hyde said he would have to eval­u­ate how dif­fer­ent coun­cil pro­ce­dures could com­ply with the city char­ter.

Mayor Vic­tor Gon­za­les said that in his more than nine years on the coun­cil, he’s seen meet­ings end at 3 a.m. to more re­cently be­ing “more tame in terms of time frame,” he said.

The topic will come back to the coun­cil, pos­si­bly in April, as the city looks at up­dat­ing pro­ce­dures, Hyde said.

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