Sisyphus Unbound: The Long Struggle to Make Richmond City Council Meetings Shorter

blogimage.jpgEver considered attending a Richmond City Council meeting?  If you have, you may have also pondered whether you have six-and-a-half hours to spare on a Tuesday evening after work. 

It appears the marathon quality of the Richmond City Council meetings is so deeply woven into the fabric of the Council’s traditions that even council members’ proposed resolutions to address the issue of excessively long meetings are never reached because the members find they always run out of time.

Tuesday evening, the members once again attempted to tackle the problem of runaway meetings and member in-fighting during the public sessions.  The effort proved Sisyphean - a perfect example of the mythical boulder perpetually rolling back down the mountain over the back of poor Sisyphus.

The agenda item – sponsored by councilmembers Jim Rogers and Jael Myrick – finally reached the floor around 10:45 pm at Tuesday’s meeting. 

In the midst of heated debate over the necessity for the new rules, which are designed to limit and regulate the talking time allotted for members of the council to speak and carry on at meetings, the discussion was interrupted as 11:00 pm drew near.  At that point, council rules state that the councilmembers have to vote to extend the meeting.  The extension passed but only provided an additional 30 minutes.  This, alas, proved insufficient for the Council to reach the point of putting the motion up for a vote.

When time came for a vote to extend the meeting yet again, the members – led by a perturbed Corky Boozé – shot down Mr. Myrick’s motion for an extension by a bare majority with only Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Myrick voting in favor.  So, at the end of a very long discussion, no action was taken.

This is not even the first time that this issue has been placed on the Council’s agenda.  The identical resolution appeared on the agenda for the Council’s March 18th meeting.  That agenda item was never actually reached by the Council at the March 18th meeting because, after an evening meeting that began at 6:30 pm and covered only a handful of agenda items (and was interrupted by a brief but tense ejection of the public audience from the council chambers), the councilmembers discovered that it was already 11:15 pm and the remainder of the agenda needed to be jettisoned and rescheduled for consideration at the next meeting.

All the more telling, though, was the bold text that followed the March 18th meeting agenda item.  It read, “This item was continued from the March 4, 2014, meeting.” 

“Irony” is a word that is frequently misapplied to matters that are actually just coincidences and it is sometimes difficult to think of good examples from the real world that correctly embody the meaning of the word.  One wonders if the editor’s of Webster’s might think themselves blessed with the perfect exemplar in the story of a city council whose resolution to end excessively long meetings is constantly defeated because their meetings run too long.

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