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A proposal by councilor Kristin Henderson to replace one Tuesday night meeting a month with a meeting from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Friday, sparked lively debate both in Los Alamos County’s online Open Forum and during a council work session Tuesday.
At the conclusion of the debate, Council Chair Geoff Rodgers asked county staffers to return with a revised proposal to conduct a Friday meeting every other month for a calendar year. Council will vote on the motion March 26.
Henderson, meanwhile, not only advocated for her idea in council, she weighed in on the Open Forum website.
“My reason for suggesting the modification is, it allows people who typically cannot attend night time meetings the chance to do so if they want. This includes, especially, families with young kids at home …” Henderson wrote. “Having meetings only at the same day and time by definition eliminates some portion of the community. Allowing more participation of the whole community by having an alternative time is, I think, a good thing.”
Councilor Fran Berting asked how it would affect councilors David Izraelevitz and Steve Girrens, who both work for Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Izraelevitz said his current schedule is such that it would not be an issue, but it could be if he took a management position.
Girrens, on the other hand, would be forced to choose between being council’s representative on the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities and daytime council meetings.
“It’s not like I’m excited to give up the regional coalition, because I think the whole point of this is to support the lab,” Girrens said. “And if somebody who works at the lab can’t even attend those meetings, we lose that ability to understand what’s being said some times. So it’s one priority over the other.”
Girrens suggested holding Friday meetings bi-monthly so he could alternate that with Regional Coalition meetings.
Bi-monthly meetings could solve another problem, Councilor Rick Reiss pointed out. In the proposed schedule, one of the Friday meetings fell the day after Thanksgiving and another one fell on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Girrens pointed out that even without a holiday, many people start their weekends on Friday.
Girrens and Rodgers were both concerned about time constraints with daytime meetings. The proposal calls for holding the meetings from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
“With nighttime meetings, we can work as late as we need to, to get things done. During the day, people already have plans in place: meetings, child care, things like that. So there’s going to have to be a hard stop time,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers was concerned that Friday meetings would be constrained to a lighter agenda to stay within time constraints and that the other business meeting could get overloaded.
“There might be the tendency to save the really tough issues for a night time meeting, because we know there may just not be enough time to get all the way through it,” Rodgers said. “And if it’s supposed to end at 2:30, if we have finished one business item say at 1:50, and the next business item is a big one, do we start? Do we stop? Do we get halfway through it? There’s a lot of practicality there that doesn’t really come in equally in the evening.”
Henderson suggested that shorter meetings would encourage council to “streamline” its discussions.
Councilor Pete Sheehey suggested placing issues that affect families on the Friday agenda.
Rodgers also pointed out that he has children and will need to find daycare to attend daytime meetings, and those considerations could discourage some people from running for council.
Resident Michael Di Rosa raised a similar issue on Open Forum, noting that many working people do not have the flexibility to take a Friday off to attend council meetings, and that it could prevent those people from running for office.
The majority of the 24 comments on the Open Forum were in favor of Friday meetings, mostly to accommodate those with children. Some supported a daytime meeting for those who do not drive at night.
Others were concerned about the number of people with inflexible work schedules who would not be able to participate.
“Moving the meeting to 11 a.m. on a Friday is essentially accommodating the retirees and elderly that don’t work. They also tend to be the group that votes down most community improvement projects because they don’t directly benefit them. i.e. the Leisure Pool Project,” resident Chet Manley wrote. “The belief that those of us that work could use our lunch break to attend these meetings, and have our voices heard, is beyond wishful thinking.”
“When I added up all the groups who could attend on a Tuesday evening, versus all the people who could possibly not attend at Friday noontime, it just seems to weigh much more on one demographic than another,” Izraelevitz said.
Rodgers said that if the motion were adopted, it should have a sunset clause so council could re-evaluate how the revised schedule is working. Henderson said that the trial should be at least a year to have adequate time to evaluate.
The Open Forum on this issue has closed, but the public may still comment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.