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Aldermen to try again to not burn midnight oil

Evanston aldermen agreed this week to take a closer look next month at the perennial problem of City Council meetings that drag on late into the night.

Finding the right balance between giving citizens and the aldermen ample time to discuss public issues — while not having key votes taken way past most people's bedtimes — has proved an elusive goal in the past.

Evanston aldermen agreed this week to take a closer look next month at the perennial problem of City Council meetings that drag on late into the night.

Finding the right balance between giving citizens and the aldermen ample time to discuss public issues — while not having key votes taken way past most people's bedtimes — has proved an elusive goal in the past.

The council over a year ago opted to set a floating start time for the full council's meetings — to avoid having long delays after the end of the last pre-council committee meeting.

But that's led to uncertainty for people who want to speak during the public comment session at the full council meeting about when they should show up and how long they'll have to wait to speak.

With the hot conflicts over big development projects that had dominated council debates in the middle of the last decade fading away with the slowdown in the real estate market, aldermen thought the new schedule might have been the key to getting home at a reasonable hour.

But the four regular public City Council meetings so far this year have on average ended at 11 p.m. — and on three of those four nights the aldermen had to stay even later for closed-door executive sessions.

With five of the nine aldermen starting their evening with the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting at 5:45 p.m., it makes for a long night.

In a preliminary discussion of the issue Monday night aldermen offered a variety of suggestions. They included:

  • Holding shorter regular meetings every week rather than just twice a month.
  • Addressing most routine issues just once — at the full City Council — rather than twice — at committee meetings and again before the full body, and saving committee meetings for major issues only.
  • Keeping the scope of committee meeting as they are now, but switching them to the off weeks, rather than holding them on the same night the full council meets.
  • Holding the two main committee sessions, Administration and Public Works and Planning and Development, at the same time — a change not feasible as long as many aldermen wish to sit on both committees.
  • Moving ceremonial business honoring local residents for good deeds to the first Monday of the month, when aldermen now gather for a Rules Committee meeting.
  • Dispensing with the full reading of the consent agenda, a process that now typically takes 10 minutes, and relying on the printed consent agenda available online and as handouts at the meeting to let the audience know what items are being bundled together for approval in a single vote.

With no consensus among the aldermen about which alternative to choose, they asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to research how other communities arrange their meetings and come up with some suggestions for the April 11 Rules Committee meeting.

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