Local mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties vary on how public meet­ings are run

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

Once again, I’m away from my desk. I’m tak­ing a road trip this week to visit fam­ily in Wisconsin. Here’s one of my fa­vorite col­umns from Jan­uary 2015. I love com­mu­nity meet­ings. I’ve cov­ered more than 45 dif­fer­ent mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and school dis­tricts. They’re all lit­tle soap op­eras, with a pur­pose, and as long as they don’t drag on for more than 3 hours, I’m fully en­gaged. All meet­ings dif­fer, but the re­sults are the same. En­joy!

Meet­ing agen­das are road maps.

It’s all there, in black and white. Agen­das are neatly typed. Cat­e­gories are con­sis­tent from meet­ing to meet­ing.

Of­ten­times, the short­est agen­das guide us through the long­est meet­ings. A meet­ing pro­jected to last 30 min­utes might end up last­ing three hours. On any par­tic­u­lar night will su­per­vi­sors spend an hour on bud­get talks or table the dis­cus­sion?

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties fol­low dif­fer­ent agenda tem­plates. Some are ba­sic, with few items listed, while oth­ers in­clude ev­ery de­tail.

There are two types of re­porters, those who love com­mu­nity meet­ings and those who are bored by them. Public meet­ings are full of lit­tle soap opera-like mo­ments--of­ten with big im­pli­ca­tions. Al­though, after talk­ing for more than three hours, ev­ery­body just wants to go home.

What fol­lows are some of the most com­mon agenda items:

1. CALL MEET­ING TO OR­DER The chair starts the meet­ing, typ­i­cally on time, though po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion and schmooz­ing some­times causes a de­lay.

2. ROLL CALL Su­pers con­firm to a clerk or as­sis­tant that they are present. Pri­mar­ily recorded for the min­utes, the meet­ing’s of­fi­cial record. The au­di­ence can eas­ily look for them­selves to see if a su­per­vi­sor is miss­ing.

3. THE PLEDGE OF AL­LE­GIANCE Only stu­dents say the pledge more of­ten than public of­fi­cials and re­porters.

4. PUBLIC COM­MENT OF NON-AGENDA ITEMS Of­ten, the most in­ter­est­ing part of the meet­ing. You never know what res­i­dents are think­ing. Does some­body dis­agree with the zon­ing of­fi­cer or does a dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tion re­quire a stop sign?

Un­for­tu­nately some town­ships, bor­oughs and cities limit res­i­dents to ei­ther three or five min­utes. Many of those mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties use an egg timer and some­times strictly enforce the limit. If a res­i­dent is so moved to go out of their way, leave a comfy home and at­tend a meet­ing, they should be able to speak as long as they wish. The board is not limited, why should the res­i­dents be?

5. AC­CEP­TANCE OF THE MIN­UTES FROM THE PRE­VI­OUS MEET­INGS Hope­fully the board has read those min­utes. Typ­i­cally only ty­pos are noted and changed.

6. COM­MEN­DA­TIONS A long­time vol­un­teer is re­tir­ing after work­ing on sev­eral com­mit­tees after 22 years or a po­lice of­fi­cer de­liv­ered a baby. Plaques are of­ten pre­sented and it’s a great time to take pho­tos of smil­ing politi­cians.

7. RE­PORTS Typ­i­cally, po­lice, fire and am­bu­lance com­pany chiefs re­cap the pre­vi­ous month. Po­lice reg­u­larly list how many traf­fic ci­ta­tions were is­sued, the number of calls an­swered and how many miles of­fi­cers trav­eled. Am­bu­lance com­pa­nies re­port on ev­ery­thing from fa­tal­i­ties to the av­er­age re­sponse time to the number of traf­fic ac­ci­dents. I’m al­ways shocked to hear that the most com­mon am­bu­lance re­sponse is for fallen res­i­dents, espe­cially in town­ships with se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Fire com­pa­nies of­ten tell of the amount of fuel con­sumed, the number of hours spent re­spond­ing and how many first re­spon­ders were in­volved for a par­tic­u­lar event.

8. COM­MIT­TEE AND STAFF RE­PORTS The trea­surer, road mas­ter, solic­i­tor, town­ship man­ager, open space com­mit­tee and mu­nic­i­pal author­ity, etc., all dis­cuss pre­vi­ous

com­mit­tee meet­ings and points of interest.

By this time, res­i­dents are of­ten fid­get­ing and some­times check­ing off items with a pen on the agenda as items are dis­posed of. By this time, not much “news” has yet hap­pened

and much of the meet­ing to date has been ad­min­is­tra­tional.

9. DE­VEL­OPER PRE­SEN­TA­TIONS Not as com­mon as they were prior to 2008, but still a good

chance to hear if they’re build­ing a con­ve­nience store in your back­yard or 633 town­houses on a pretty corn field. Typ­i­cally, there are many ques­tions, and some­times a bit of horse trad­ing. A builder might sug­gest build­ing four storeys high, thus ex­ceed­ing the town­ship’s height re­stric­tion. The board might in turn ask if the builder would con­sider ex­pand­ing the foot print of a park or open space.

10.CON­SENT AGENDA A bunch of un­re­lated stuff cob­bled to­gether for a sin­gle aye or nay vote. Ev­ery­thing the board deems not important enough to dis­cuss prior to a vote. Items are reg­u­larly re­moved and voted on in­di­vid­u­ally.

11. OLD BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR Did

that old bridge fall down? Are plans for a new park still on­go­ing? Any­thing that’s been pre­vi­ously dis­cussed is open game.

12. NEW BUSINESS FROM THE FLOOR The board dis­cusses sub­jects at length. Prior to votes, the au­di­ence tries to determine which way an in­di­vid­ual su­per might swing on a par­tic­u­lar agenda item. Of­ten, this is the first time we’ve heard about a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject.

13. OLD BUSINESS FROM THE BOARD We now get to re­ally know how those with a vote, and seated at the podium, are think­ing. Did a su­per change their mind since the last meet­ing?

14. AUTHO­RIZE PAY­ING THE BILLS Su­per­vi­sors scan out­stand­ing deb­its,

then vote to pay what is due. Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the meet­ing su­per­vi­sors sign phys­i­cal checks.

15. OPEN IS­SUES BE­FORE THE TOWN­SHIP Any­thing that’s on­go­ing. What’s the con­di­tion of a road need­ing work but is not bud­geted?

16. COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS AND COR­RE­SPON­DENCE Full let­ters to the town­ship might be read. This is a way for those not at­tend­ing to take part.

17. UPCOMIMNG MEET­INGS AND EVENTS Read into the record, usually quickly.

17. AD­JOURN­MENT An unan­i­mous vote, al­ways.

You may con­tact staff writer Bill Ret­tew at bret­tew@dai­ly­lo­cal.com

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