Council considers new meeting time

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Work session > Alternate Friday schedule could result

By Arin McKenna

Tuesday’s Los Alamos County Council work session was largely devoted to answering questions concerning rules and procedures for newly elected councilors.

One notable topic was a suggestion by Councilor Kristin Henderson that one of council’s three monthly meetings be conducted from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday instead of the usual 7 p.m. Tuesday time.

“I think lifestyles have changed since that was originally adopted and most evenings, people with children are basically not ever going to be able to come,” Henderson said. “When we have such an issue with losing our families and them not feeling they’re heard or know what’s going on, I think we should look at that.”

Council Chair Geoff Rodgers asked County Administrator Harry Burgess to weigh in on the practical considerations involved in changing times.

Burgess said that it might attract Los Alamos National Laboratory personnel, who have rotating Fridays off. The change could also make it more feasible to have non-exempt staff members give input on agenda items they had worked on. The county tries to limit evening attendance to exempt employees to keep overtime to a minimum.

The change could, on the other hand, make it more difficult to have necessary personnel on hand, since Friday is popular as a vacation day. Staff would also have to find meeting times that do not conflict with other commitments such as regional partnership meetings, conferences, national budget hearings and legislative conferences and make sure PAC 8 is available to broadcast at that time.

“I think it’s vital that we have our formal business sessions where we do take action available on TV, because many people do tune in and I think it’s important that we don’t look like we’re trying to do something outside of the public eye,” Rodgers said.

Limiting the meetings to two hours could also limit council’s ability to take action. Council meetings frequently run three to four hours and agenda items might need to be tabled for a later date.

“There’s obviously a lot here to coordinate, so we’ll leave it with Harry and staff to look at schedules and other issues,” Rodgers said. “We’ll certainly take a stab at it and see what comes out of it.”

Council discussed three changes to rules, which will be placed on the consent agenda at an upcoming meeting. The suggestions were to eliminate wording saying that council meetings will begin at 7 p.m., have public comment at both the beginning and end of work sessions and to change the placement of public comment on agenda items during regular meetings. Public comment will now come after councilor questions and before a motion is made and discussion begins.

Henderson raised an issue about the question and comment periods.

“I would like councilors to really express their point of view in the discussion part and the time for technical questions or clarification only be used for that,” Henderson said. “Having observed council for nine years, it seems like often that’s used as a time when people are trying to persuade each other as opposed to honestly asking questions. I would like us to distinguish those two things.”

Rodgers confirmed that it is his intention to hold councilors to those standards.

He also advised councilors that their role as liaisons to various boards and commissions is to help members understand the workings of council, not to be “intimately involved in the operations of that board.”

“I don’t believe that the expectation was that the councilors would attend every meeting. One concern that came out is that if you are at every single board or commission meeting, you kind of become a super board member, and you can influence things in a way that perhaps we shouldn’t,” Rodgers said, referring to concerns raised by the Charter Review Committee.

“The other concern was that if you are intimately involved in the development of the board’s position, at the council level you’re supposed to be objective and look at all the demands that come to council. You really want them to be independent and bring things to council based upon the work plan that council reviews. Always be aware that when whatever they do comes before the council, you still have to be in an objective position about what the product is.”