Councilors hope moving meetings will interest residents

The change in scheduling Sandy City Council meetings has not made many friends.

Only a few months ago, the council approved, without much enthusiasm, changing the schedule to one regular meeting a month and one workshop.

Perhaps no one realized that the one regular meeting, where most decisions would be made, would last three or four hours.

They also didn’t realize that fact would extend their preparation time. There would be more papers to read; more choices to make; more positions to take; and more research to dig into.

The councilors are all volunteers, and most are employed. Not many of the seven-member panel would, at the end of a workday, choose to discuss and decide the city’s future and how to spend taxpayers’ money until 11 p.m.

“People get tired,” said Mayor Bill King, “and they don’t do their best thinking when they’re tired.”

So, a couple of councilors asked for a review of the policy. A SurveyMonkey poll showed that some councilors had differing views of how to set meetings and some were indifferent.

At a recent council meeting, the discussion on how to prevent the long-meeting syndrome went in circles for a while until King brought it back to center while talking on workshops.

“Our workshops have a round-table setup,” he said. “I liked that a lot more. I felt we really got into the meat of what we need to do more than to try to just rely on what staff informed us of. We had more time to ask more questions. The more questions you ask, the more your brain whirls and you think of more things. So I want to maintain that (informal) format in a third meeting.”

The choice of the council (after King offered a compromise) was to return to two regular meetings each month on the first and third Mondays. But the council still wants one workshop each month, so that will be on the second Tuesday.

“I preferred the way we had it before (two regular meetings a month),” said Councilor Lois Coleman. “We had shorter meetings then, and if we throw in an extra workshop that’s OK.”

This choice met with unanimous agreement for six of seven councilors present (Grant Baker was absent), even though King would rather have kept the schedule at one meeting and one workshop per month.

With this new schedule, council members are avoiding the previous problems they had when they were rushed between 6 and 7 p.m. to conduct a workshop while they were eating their dinner, cleaning their dishes and trying to discuss pressing issues.

“We couldn’t give our full attention to the workshop,” Coleman said, “because we had to rush to get done before 7 p.m.”

Councilor Baker said he would have no comment on the situation, since he was absent from the council meeting, missed the discussion and didn’t reply to the survey.

Councilors who have been on the panel for several years all agree the 7 p.m. deadline made the workshop less valuable to them, and they needed more time and a more relaxed atmosphere.

With that type of low-key workshop, the council also is trying to create a more welcoming atmosphere for local residents.

Councilors want the people they serve to visit with them and tell them what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong — and what they’d like to see different in the city.

That will happen more frequently, they hope, on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. That’s when they’ll sit around a table and just talk about current issues.

The podium, microphone, TV cameras, people sitting behind a counter on a raised stage looking down on speakers and an audience behind the speakers — all of that seems too intimidating to some people. King says separating the “round-table” workshop from regular meetings should correct those ills.

Councilor Carl Exner stepped forward when he realized the podium, cameras and council stage were intimidating. So he established a time (second Tuesday) when he would sit in the Sandy library and talk with anyone who had a view to express.

The new arrangement won’t be a change for Exner. He’ll still have three meetings a month. He’ll just go to the council chamber on the second Tuesday, instead of the library, and wait for residents to show up.

King believes the lack of formality will make the workshops more palatable to Sandy residents.

“That’s why I want to keep the informal workshop,” King said, “and just gather around a table.”

The regular council meetings will return to the previous configuration, and local residents may still come and give their views to the council on those Mondays.

For more information, call King at 503-668-9517.

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