Everett council considers having only night meetings

EVERETT — Venture into a daytime City Council meeting, and you’re bound to find an open seat.

Most council meetings take place on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. The exception is the fourth Wednesday of the month, when they start at lunchtime, 12:30 p.m.

To boost participation, Council President Jeff Moore wants to move all meetings to nights. The goal is to benefit the public as well as council members, who must work around schedules in their day jobs.

“Over the past year, as president, I have noticed that at our day meetings we have fairly low attendance,” Moore said during Wednesday’s afternoon meeting. “I know that through informal and scattered conservations with my colleagues, that there is enough interest in moving forward with moving our fourth meeting to a night meeting.”

As Moore spoke, the audience numbered about 15 — most of them city staff.

The council plans to discuss the potential change at its next meeting, scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. If there’s general agreement, they’ll prepare to take a formal vote Feb. 5.

Over the past few decades, meetings have migrated often to different time slots.

The current schedule began four years ago when council members voted 7-0 for the change.

That decision came shortly after the subject of meeting times in Everett caused a flap over government transparency.

In January 2010, two councilmen, Ron Gipson and the since-retired Arlan Hatloe, surprised the public and some of their colleagues by introducing a resolution to move three meetings a month to mornings, with just one nightly meeting each month.

The resolution wasn’t on the council’s official agenda, though city staff had started drafting it at least three weeks earlier. It was narrowly approved. People wrote letters and e-mails complaining that the decision curtailed public access.

The controversy prompted the council to convene an open government committee and formalize its procedures to avoid future surprises.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Councilman Scott Murphy asked city staff to provide attendance figures for the public and council members, if they’re available, comparing day and night meetings.

Staffing costs also are likely to come up during next week’s discussion. Most staff who now attend meetings are in management or other positions considered overtime-exempt, so they earn comp time instead of overtime, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said. Overtime-eligible employees sometimes assist with presentations and with specific topics.

Gail Chism, a regular attendee at council since the 1970s, supports the current schedule with day and night meetings.

“I think they should keep one during the day,” Chism said. “There are all sorts of people who work different shifts and I think that having at least one daytime meeting along with nights gives people a better opportunity to participate in the process.”

Day meetings also benefit the elderly, who might be reluctant to go out at night, she said.

People have been able to watch the meetings live or archived online since 2009.

Separately, a venue change is in the works for the Everett Planning Commission. Those meetings are set to move to City Council Chambers starting Feb. 4 so they can be live-streamed and archived online. The commission has been meeting in the Wall Street Building, where the city lacks access to the same technology.

The Planning Commission meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 6:30 p.m.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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