|About those long night meetings|
Along with a couple dozen Coastsiders, my Fourth of July started with fireworks at the Coastside Fire Protection District board meeting Tuesday night. (Actually, the meeting sort of fizzled at the start. Because two times were listed on the agenda, board President Doug Mackintosh, with advice from counsel, opted to do some housekeeping at 6:30 p.m., saving the juicier stuff till after 7:30 p.m.)
Most of us knew we were in for a long night when we saw all those folding metal chairs arranged to face the dais in a cold garage bay of the Main Street firehouse. But, as 10 p.m. became 11 p.m. and finally the dawn of a new day, it occurred to me that these things can run too late. By the end of it all, I felt a lot like that training dummy you see over Assistant Chief Paul Cole's shoulder in the accompanying photo.
In the course of nearly 30 years of newspaper reporting, I've been to hundreds of government meetings. Conservatively, I'd say I've been to 700 meetings involving wooden gavels, buzzing sound systems and cranky public speakers. (One every other week for 28 years.) Many of those meetings were held at night.
Public officials hold meetings at night for good reason. Many of them have day jobs and can't always get away in the middle of a weekday. And they really do want public participation at their meetings. If they hold a meeting at 2 p.m., many of their constituents will be at work.
So what to do? I have two ideas.
First, why not start meetings earlier, at 5:30 p.m. instead of 6:30 or 7:30 p.m.? Governing boards could address housekeeping matters early in the meeting to allow folks time to get home from work. That would kill the dinner hour before the meeting, but that is a price I would pay.
Secondly, hold more meetings on Saturdays. It's certainly not a perfect solution. Few of us want to spend our Saturdays on those cold folding chairs, but at least we could stay awake.
Your mother was right. Nothing good happens after midnight, at least not at a public meeting. Folks are tired and irritable and there is plenty of research to suggest that we don't make the best decisions that late at night.