You never know when an Evanston City Council meeting is actually going to begin.
Because the two committee meetings that precede the full council session on Monday nights frequently run long — sometimes by hours — the start time noted on the council meeting agenda is rarely accurate.
It’s an issue that has frustrated residents who want to attend a council meeting for years.
Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) is hoping his colleagues will finally do something about it.
He’s asked the council’s Rules Committee to discuss potential reform solutions when it meets at 5 p.m. Monday.
The way things work now, the city staff looks at what’s on the committee agendas, makes a best guess of how long those meetings will last and sets the start time for the council meeting based on that.
If they allow too much time, that means there’s a big gap after the committee meetings before the council session — because under the state open meetings act a meeting can’t start before the time set on its agenda.
And, as Alison Leipsiger, the city’s policy coordinator, notes in a memo, it also means that there’s often a long discussion about a key issue in committee, “and then the full council has an extremely similar conversation” about the same issue an hour or so later.
That, she says, “is inefficient for the council and for the public.”
The memo suggests one solution would be to move the Administration and Public Works Committee and Planning and Development Committee meetings to different nights — perhaps the first and third Mondays of each month, leaving the full City Council meetings on the second and fourth Mondays.
That would likely require moving the Rules Committee and Human Services Committee meetings, now held on the first Monday of the month, to some other day, perhaps the first Tuesday of the month.
That would also give the public more time to react to whatever had been decided in A&PW and P&D about an issue before it’s voted on by the full council.
And not all of the committees meet every time they’re scheduled to.
The Rules Committee is scheduled to meet monthly, but Monday will be its first meeting this year, and it met only seven times in 2022.
The Human Services Committee has only canceled one monthly meeting so far this year, but it canceled four monthly meetings last year.
The Planning and Development Committee has canceled two of its nine scheduled meetings this year, and canceled five of 22 meetings last year.
The Administration and Public Works Committee, in part because it approves the city’s payroll and bills, hasn’t canceled a meeting since the early months of the pandemic in 2020.
Other options discussed in the memo include:
- Consistently starting the full council meeting at a much later time. But with Monday night meeting marathons now often lasting from 5 p.m. to near midnight, that is not likely to have much appeal.
- Setting fixed end times for committee meetings — concluding them even if some agenda items have yet to be discussed. But since most committee agenda items are scheduled for introduction the same night at the full council meeting, that would mean they’d either have to be dealt with at council without a committee recommendation or be postponed until a future meeting.
Options not mentioned in the memo include:
- Abolishing the council committees involved and having their issues discussed first by the full council. All nine council members, plus the mayor, are on the Rules Committee, seven are on Planning and Development and five each are on Administration and Public Works and Human Services.
- Reducing the current five minute limit for each member to speak on each agenda item, in an effort move discussions along more quickly.