At 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Volusia County Council will convene in what is supposed to be a series of business meetings intended to make it easier for working people to come and see their local government in action — and even to participate in the proceedings without sacrificing time at work.
Are the council members and the able administrative staffers ready for prime time?
That remains to be seen, as meetings of late have not fit into half-hour and hourlong program blocks.
Last month, the council, which has five new members, abruptly decided to change the times of its meetings. The governing body opted to continue meeting on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, but the start time of the first meeting was changed from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the second meeting will be called to order at 4 p.m.
As leaders begin their experiment in doing and showing official proceedings — live via the county’s website and archived for later viewing pleasure, as well as those who want to be part of the live, in-chambers audience — some questions have yet to be answered. If the meetings start in the late afternoon, will they extend well into the next morning? The most recent meeting, for example, began at 10 a.m. and ended at 10:29 p.m., with approximately an hour for lunch.
Thus, will a late start mean a pre-dawn adjournment?
“That’s a good question,” Vice Chair Danny Robins told The Beacon. “We still have to get our ground rules in, but it really falls on individuals and the chairman to keep the meeting moving.”
Council members have indeed chided County Chair Jeff Brower for not enforcing the three-minute time limits on those who speak during public participation, especially during the morning forum. Brower said in his defense he is lenient toward those who feel a bit of stage fright when they are speaking to leaders and standing out in a crowd.
“I don’t think that’s the reason our meetings run long,” he said. “I think our meetings run long because of the amount of time we speak.”
Why the long duration? There were staff presentations on economic development and Daytona Beach International Airport that lasted longer than expected, and there were several land-use and zoning cases awaiting action by the elected body.
Council members say they themselves talk too much. Freshman Council Member Jake Johansson said the council members should be given “one bite of the apple” during debate on issues leading up to a vote. Johansson decried the “bouncing back and forth“ among members who insist on speaking on the fine points of arguments made by colleagues.
Freshman Council Member David Santiago opposes such a strict limit on speech and counter-speech.
“Debate is healthy,” he said, adding he and his peers should have “two bites of the apple.”
— Whatever the reasons for the length of the sessions, will people actually come to meetings that last so long, especially if they must get up early the next morning to go to work? Will the internet audience turn off their computers and retire?
I am looking forward to meetings during the evening, it is long overdue. If you follow local and county governments you know meetings tend to have few members of the public in attendance unless there are hot button issues being addressed. However, a government that represents THE PEOPLE should hold meetings when THE PEOPLE are most able to be in attendance. Pushing back against night meetings, Vice Chair Robbins often brings up the other ways members of the public are able to contact their County elected representatives such as Email, however, I will tell you many of our elected representatives do a very poor job of responding to Emails. The entire premise of having county and local governments is to bring the control closer to the people and there’s something very special about being able to look our elected representatives in the eye and to address them about your concerns on issues that affect your community and for your elected representatives to have to look you and the rest of the public in the eye as they are making decisions. In the end, members of the County Council and the well paid bureaucrats work for us, we are their bosses. One meeting a month and an occasional workshop during the evening is not too much to ask. If most of the cities can hold meetings during the evening it shouldn’t be so difficult for the County to do the same. And another thing, daytime meetings also limit the pool of people who are able to run for elected County office.