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Council’s decision to move to work session format is winner

Published: Friday, March 22, 2013 12:40 p.m. CST

This week, the Newton City Council decided to change the way in which it conducts its meetings each month. One meeting will remain a standard council meeting, while the second will become an informal work session.

The change, and in particular its timing, was necessitated by changing from in-house legal counsel to a contracted attorney to represent the city’s interests. However, the move makes sense from many other standpoints.

First, the move to the work session format will reduce the cost of city governance. While the council already has moved to a “paperless” system for council packets, the documentation necessary to provide councilors with the background they need to make informed decisions takes time to produce — a lot of time.

Also along that same vein, many members of the city staff are on hand for each meeting, whether their department has a matter coming before the council or not. And while changing the format doesn’t necessarily reduce the cost of those employees, it does mean more of the time we pay them for is devoted to working on behalf of the people of the City of Newton, not sitting through a second council meeting each month.

Councilors often have only a weekend to examine the contents of a meeting packet, plus whatever discussion takes place in the formal meeting, before making important decisions that can affect thousands of citizens’ daily lives. A monthly work session allows them more time to discuss these important matters amongst themselves before a decision is reached.

The added time also allows the council to seek more feedback from the public. While a public forum segment is not likely to become part of the work session format, those meetings are still open to the public, which may observe and then provide feedback afterward without fear councilors will take action before hearing that feedback.

Fire pits, anyone?

Yes, the now-monthly formal meetings will have much larger agendas, and to an outside observer, those meetings may move at a much quicker pace, but that will be because the City Council will be acting from a better informed consensus. And, really, shouldn’t that be the true goal?