Among the things Santa Monica City Council meetings are famous for is their extreme length.
For one thing, whatever the subject, Council members seem to find it necessary to almost literally talk it to death. Their comments are occasionally relevant and useful, but all too often Council members waste their time and ours snapping at other Council members, making bad jokes, fulsomely praising the staff, pandering to certain constituents, and vying for the last word.
City Manager Susan McCarthy and City Attorney Marcia Moutrie don’t speak as often as the Council members, but when they do, they are equally long-winded.
Compounding the problem, the meeting agendas are over-loaded because there is apparently nothing in the City that City Hall does not want to stop, start, change or regulate.
And, of course, no matter what’s on the table, there will be people who want to say something about it. At the last meeting, for example, 44 people signed up to talk about the traffic to and from Santa Monica College’s airport campus, as it was the second or third time the question had come before the Council, and it had yet to be resolved.
Given all that, one would think, at the very least, City Hall would make every effort to accommodate the public, but, in fact, it seems bent on doing just the opposite. According to the agenda, Council meetings begin at 5:45 p.m. with the Consent Calendar, which generally consists of a dozen or more items that are approved, with one motion, without discussion. That takes about five minutes.
Then, rather than moving on to the other items on the agenda, the Council goes into closed session. In recent weeks, the Council hasn’t emerged until after 8. Thus it is that people who arrive at 5:45 p.m. to hear the Consent Calendar have the unhappy choice of hanging around City Hall for several hours, leaving and returning, or giving up and going home.
As closed sessions involve far fewer people, and virtually no members of the public, and deal with far narrower questions than public sessions, it would be more sensible and more democratic to schedule the closed sessions after the public sessions.
But neither sense nor democracy appears to be high on City Hall’s list of priorities.
And so, meeting after meeting, residents wait, sometimes for hours, to hear an item, or speak on it, and, inevitably, some people finally give up and go home. Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps it’s some sort of test – if you can make it through three hours of bombast, you can have two minutes at the podium. Or perhaps Council members and City staff figure if they have to spend most of the night in City Hall, so should residents.
Whatever else they may be, these marathon sessions are thoughtless and unproductive. Very few people are at their best at 1 in the morning – especially if they’ve nattered and been nattered at for seven hours.
This isn’t any way to run a city, and Santa Monica is the worse for it.
The new City Manager could get off to a propitious start by making some simple changes. First, all closed sessions should be scheduled after public sessions. Second, meeting agendas should be radically pruned, and urgent items should be given priority.With these changes, the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month might become more than mere endurance contests.