2018-01-05 / Community

South Portland council meetings to change nights

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — In order to give themselves more time to digest information packets distributed on Friday afternoons for their regular business meetings and workshop sessions, the South Portland City Council will move its meetings days from Monday, to Tuesday, starting Feb. 6.

City Manager Scott Morelli initially proposed the move in a Nov. 21 email to councilors, writing that, “Getting a packet of materials on a Friday and then meeting on Monday night is a fairly quick turnaround.”

Morelli also noted that because of the number of Monday holidays during the year, many meeting dates often have to be rescheduled, while the school board also meets on Mondays, “so residents can be faced with choosing between attending one of their meetings or one of yours.” Morelli also noted that limited resources for South Portland Community Television often means that council workshops are not broadcast or streamed online live as they happen, but are instead recorded for later viewing, in order to give precedence to the school board.

The council readily agreed to the day change, but asked that council workshops, traditionally gaveled into session at 6:30 p.m., now start at 7 p.m., to be consistent with the start time for business meetings, and to give attendees a little more time after the workday.

“The day that we meet is immaterial in my world. The time that we meet can really put me in a bind,” said Councilor Claude Morgan. “When we have an early meeting, it forces me to miss time at work. Even for a 6:30 meeting, there are times when I come without having had dinner. And, if we make it too onerous for working blokes like me, are we not limiting the field of who will stand for office in the future?”

“I don’t mind it being on Monday,” said Councilor Maxine Beecher. “But when you only get your (meeting information) packet on Friday, and you’ve already made commitments for the weekend, it becomes really hard.”

“I like the idea of having a little more time to absorb what I lovingly call ‘The Friday surprise,’” said Councilor Eben Rose.

“I’ve always hated Monday night meetings,” said Mayor Linda Cohen. “When you have a meeting that goes to 2 a.m. the rest of the week, you’re just dragging. And when you have a daytime job, it makes it a tough slog to get through the rest of the week.”

Cohen also supported the new time for workshop meetings.

“Nothing says we don’t want public comment or public participation than having the meetings at a time when people can’t get to them,” she said.

To further avoid conflict of meeting times with the school board, any city council meetings that do need to be rescheduled, such as for weather-related reasons, will take place on a Thursday. School board meetings generally jump to Wednesday when a postponement occurs.

“I like and appreciate that the council meetings should always be on separate days from the school board meetings,” said Councilor Kate Lewis.

Also thrown into the meeting blender by the council move is the city planning board. That group has always met on Tuesdays. A few members initially balked at a being moved by a superior domino, but at their most recent meeting agreed to hold meetings on Wednesdays, also starting in February.

Cohen suggested memorializing her new initiative for annual listening sessions in each voting districts, as part of the annual council order and standing rules on meeting times.

However, the rest of the council preferred to wait and see how the first round of those five sessions – taking placed on Thursdays from Jan. 4 to Feb. 1 – turn out.

“What if this adventure is a flop, and here we are inscribing it into the rules,” Morgan said. “Let’s give it a year and see if this is something the next council wants to take on.”

The council approved the changes at a Dec. 20 workshop. A formal vote on enactment was scheduled for the council’s business meeting on Jan. 3.

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