Keeping Up With Local Government

May 24, 2011 | Economy, Government & Policy

Keeping track of what’s happening with local government is a big part of what the Chamber does. Well, keeping track and, when appropriate, weighing in with the business perspective to influence the outcome.

We have an active local government, meaning that there is a lot going on. Based on the comments I get from members, I thought it might be helpful to provide a primer on how the City Council operates and where you can go for detailed information.

The public elects a group of seven people – the City Council – to make decisions on behalf of the rest of us. They have several internal committees but most of their work gets done on Tuesday evenings at City Hall, 300 LaPorte Avenue.

Meetings begin at 6:00 PM and consist of two types: Regular Meetings and Work Sessions.

Regular Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays. These meetings are where legislation – ordinances and resolutions – is formally adopted. Public input is taken during these meetings two ways: 30 minutes of public comment at the beginning of the meeting on issues not up for discussion; and on each Discussion Item as they are introduced. A typical agenda has 25 – 30 items. Most are routine in nature and are grouped under what is known as Consent Calendar, which allows multiple items to be passed at the same time. The remaining items are Discussion Items. These are issues that are deemed to require more public input and discussion among Council Members before final action is taken. There are typically one to five Discussion Items.

Work Sessions are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays. No formal action is taken at these meetings. Rather, as the name implies, these meetings are used to work through specific issues. A typical agenda will have two to four items. No public comment is taken at these meetings. Usually, staff video presentations are prepared on the items in advance of the meeting and distributed to the Council ahead of time and posted on the City’s website. The idea is to have staff input but not use time that should be used by the Council to discuss the issue.

The agendas and background materials for these meetings is posted on Thursday afternoons prior to the upcoming Tuesday meeting. You can go here to see the agendas and video stream presentations. Another thing worth knowing about on that section of the City Website is the “6 Month Planning Calendar.” It gives a good overview of the scheduled items coming before the Council for the next half-year. Keep in mind that it is updated weekly.

A good way to keep up on city government activities is to subscribe to select electronic notifications. There are a lot of them – 18 or so – so you’ll want to pick and chose those issues that are of most interest to you. The ones I’ve found to be most helpful are: City Council Agendas, City Manager’s Monthly Report, and Economic News.

Another place to visit regularly is the Chamber’s Government Affairs website. We even have a page that explains some of the government lingo you might hear.

There ya go – the mystery of government demystified!