Councilman wants shorter discussions
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.