Contra Costa Times: Richmond council opts to limit speaker time in effort to curb long meetings

blogimage.jpgReposted from the Contra Costa Times: Robert Rogers

Marred for years by lengthy meetings and legislative hysterics, one of the Bay Area's most long-winded councils voted Tuesday to limit the amount of time that elected leaders can talk.

The council voted 5-1, with Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles absent, to limit council members to five minutes each speaking on public business during the meetings. The new rules, proposed by Councilmembers Jim Rogers and Jael Myrick, included other provisions like limiting members to 12 proclamations per year, putting items not resolved at previous meetings at the front of the next meeting's agenda, and limiting council member questions to staff and to other presenters to "real questions, not statements masquerading as questions."

"If it's broke, you have to do something to try and fix it," Rogers said. "Our meetings are unacceptable and make us a laughingstock. I think this will dramatically reduce the time of our meetings."

Richmond council meetings routinely drag on past midnight, as members veer off into lengthy tangents and engage in verbal sparring matches with one another and the audience. Sometimes more than a dozen items of public business are held over for months due to the council's inability to expedite public business.

Councilman Corky Booze, the lone dissenter, said the rule was poorly crafted and did not contain the flexibility to deal with complex matters, noting that Chevron's local refinery modernization, a controversial topic, will likely be heard this year.

"On the Chevron renewal, Rogers, you better limit yourself to five minutes," Booze said. "Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it."

The item was debated for more than an hour, before being passed just shy of 11 p.m. The meeting was interrupted earlier when Mayor Gayle McLaughlin called a five-minute recess to halt a long a verbal tussle between Booze and City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller.

Several members of the public spoke, with some questioning who would govern the time limits. City Clerk Diane Holmes will be in charge of timing each member's remarks, McLaughlin said.

"The reason we have to have limits on time is because some people choose to filibuster," said resident Mike Parker. "With a five minute limit, we might get more conversation."

Rogers said he was hopeful that the rule change, which will take effect next month, is a step in the right direction.

"(Long meetings) discourage the public from participating, especially on the late night items, (and) we waste large amounts of taxpayer paid staff time," Rogers and Myrick wrote in their staff report. "And we embarrass ourselves on a routine basis."

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or [email protected]. Follow him

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