Could the Bishop City Council chambers go from empty during the day to filled with elected and appointed officials and city staff every second and fourth Monday? A second vote this coming Monday night will determine whether the council moves its traditional evening meetings to the daytime. Photo by Marilyn Blake Philip
City leaders are set to consider once more on Monday whether their bi-monthly meetings should be moved from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Mondayâ€™s discussion will mark the second reading of an ordinance allowing for the change, and if the City Council turns in another majority vote in favor of switching to daytime, it becomes municipal law 30 days thereafter.
The approval of the ordinanceâ€™s first reading at the Jan. 27 council meeting was not unanimous, with Councilwoman Laura Smith voting against her colleagues based on serious concerns she shares with constituents who reached out to her prior to the councilâ€™s vote.
Other council members reported hearing similar concerns, but voted for the change anyway in light of the fact that: 1. It will save the city an estimated $10,000 to $12,000 a year on overtime costs; and 2. The meetings can be changed back to evenings if the daytime format proves unpopular.
But according to Smith, those savings arenâ€™t worth the inconvenience the change will create for constituents, voters and future City Council candidates.
She explained that since most residents work or attend school during the day, a large portion of their constituents would be precluded from attending council meetings that they historically had access to during the evenings. Smith also noted that restricting access to meetings to a majority of Bishopâ€™s population runs counter to the city and councilâ€™s goal of encouraging more public involvement in municipal government.
Smith also mentioned â€“ as constituents mentioned to her â€“ that working residents wanting to run for City Council she would find it more difficult to do so. She said involvement in the election process is on a â€śdownward trendâ€ť as is, and would hate to see the city hurting for qualified candidates in future elections.
Councilman Dave Stottlemyre originally proposed the idea during recent budget workshops held by city officials to find ways to cut costs wherever possible. Stottlemyre, who is running for Inyo County Assessor, plans to keep his council job and originally proposed reducing the number of council meetings from two a month to one, noted that while some residents might be precluded from attending City Council meetings, others â€“ such as those who work nights â€“ would now be able to.
He similarly suggested that political candidates could come in the form of residents who work nights, the elderly and the retired.
It was also noted that videographer Freda Lindsay has agreed to continue recording the meetings in the event of a change to daytime and the meetings could still be televised at night â€“ just not live as they are now. So even if residents couldnâ€™t attend a council meeting, they could watch it on TV.
The city is also looking into software â€“ which runs anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 and more a year â€“ that will allow the city to live stream council meetings on the Internet and also archive them online so they can be watched anywhere, anytime.
Councilman Keith Glidewell is one of two current council members who work full time; Mayor Jim Ellis is the other. Both voted in favor of the meeting time change. Both are also facing re-election in November.
During a telephone interview earlier this week, Glidewell said he doesnâ€™t feel changing the meeting times prior to an election gives him or Ellis an unfair advantage over the potential candidate pool. He also said that while thereâ€™s â€śno harmâ€ť in waiting until after the election to consider changing council meeting times, it makes more sense to do it now so that potential candidates â€śknow what theyâ€™re getting into.â€ť
Bottom line, Glidewell said, is itâ€™s worth a try. â€śWill it affect some people? Yes. Will it inconvenience some people? Yes,â€ť he said. â€śI donâ€™t think weâ€™re going to be able to accommodate everyoneâ€™s schedule.â€ť
But, Glidewell said, daytime meetings will be â€śeasierâ€ť on city employeesâ€™ schedules â€“ another major reason for the proposal aside from the overtime savings.
According to Glidewell, itâ€™s unfair to have employees work all day at City Hall and then have to come back at night for council meetings.
The overtime costs in question are accrued by non-management level employees who attend City Council meetings after business hours for whatever reason. Assistant City Clerk Robin Picken is required to attend every meeting. The council also has Public Services Officer Gary Schley attend almost every meeting in case questions arise that are related to building permits or similar issues.
A number of department heads are also in attendance, although they do not earn overtime for being there.
Trying to align council meetings with a â€śtypicalâ€ť workday would cause the least inconvenience for all employees, Glidewell said, regardless of whether theyâ€™re making overtime or not.
He did acknowledge the possibility of creating a backlog of work for employees by taking them away from their usual tasks during the day to attend a City Council meeting instead â€“ a concern expressed by Public Works Director Dave Grah.
For Glidewell, whether the time change is a success or a failure will be determined by three things: 1. Public input; 2. Impact on staff and their workflow; and 3. Impact on working council members â€“ â€śIâ€™ll be one of those,â€ť he said.
According to City Administrator Keith Caldwell, if the council approves the time change on Monday, it becomes effective with the March 10 council meeting. The council will most likely give it at least a 60-day trial period. If the council members decide to switch back to evenings, the city will have to draft another ordinance and go through another 60-day approval process, followed by another 30-day enactment period.