Editorial: Town Council meetings are too long

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 3:00pm

People who specialize in workplace efficiency routinely say that meetings lasting more than two hours fast become a waste of time. The mind begins to wander, conversation becomes repetitive and energy gets sapped.

We bring this up in light of the excessive length of most of the Town Council meetings. We will state right out that — of course — there is important business in front of the council. There are myriad issues both major and minor. But it is the duty of First Warden Kim Gaffett to keep the conversation on track.

We’re certain that her heart is in the right place. No one, not members of the council or private citizens, wants to feel as though they have been cut out of a debate and Gaffett is aware of that. But the first warden can limit the length of public comment, and can also gently but forcefully limit the length of debate among the council members.

These lengthy meetings end up having two undesirable effects. One, it dampens public interest in the democratic process. If it’s generally known — and it is — that a meeting is going to go on for several hours, almost no one will want to go. And, often, no one does. Sometimes the only people in the audience are Bruce and Peggy Montgomery.

Just as importantly, lengthy meetings reinforce the notion that public service just takes up too much time. Public service does require a commitment, but for some reason, despite technological innovations designed to lessen our everyday chores, we seem to have less free time than ever. The idea that being a member of the council will become such an overwhelming time-consuming enterprise has certainly reduced the number of people interested in running.

There are some immediate things that can be done. While we think that the creation of a “punch list” of town projects that need attending to is a good idea, it has instead become an ever-ballooning dumping ground for a mish-mash of unprioritized ideas that are being endlessly chewed over.

Streamlining the discussion process on all town issues will accomplish a number of things: it will sharpen the debate, do a better job of engaging the public, and make public service somewhat more palatable than it currently is.