Council votes to shorten marathon meetings but likely won’t cap how long they’re allowed to talk

Long Beach City Council meetings could be getting a little bit shorter, that is, if its members choose to abide by guidelines they tentatively approved Tuesday night in an effort to rein in marathon meetings.

Some of the fixes they settled on include:

  • Having council members meet with city staff before meetings to avoid protracted explanations on the council floor.
  • Codifying a recently adopted practice by the mayor to limit public comment to 90 seconds per person instead of the normal 3 minutes when 10 or more people line up to speak on an issue.
  • Making council members provide a justification when they add a supplemental item to an agenda, which is allowed as long as its 72-hours in advance of a meeting.

If it’s officially adopted, the ordinance could also prompt certain items to be moved forward based on how many people are present to comment on them.

“If we have 100 people here to speak on one item, that item shouldn’t wait until 10 at night,” Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said. “Those people who are here should be at the front of the agenda.”

Councilman Daryl Supernaw originally floated the idea of shortening meetings last year when the City Council had seven meetings last over seven hours. Supernaw introduced his idea in October, about a month after the longest council meeting of 2018, which lasted nearly nine hours.

The most contentious recommendation in Supernaw’s item was aimed at council members themselves: It sought to limit the council’s own discussion to 30 minutes on any given item unless a majority of members voted to extend that time.

Ultimately the council dropped the 30-minute limit but did vote to set a guideline for individuals’ comments to five-minutes per council member before their time expires. Those council members would be forced to re-queue to continue speaking on the item. They wouldn’t be limited on how many times they could speak.

A survey put out by the city last year showed that, more often than not, the council’s own discussion ate up the majority of time at their weekly meetings. While most members supported the idea of limiting council comments, Councilwoman Suzie Price said she didn’t want the guidelines to constrain the role she was elected to fulfill: being an advocate for her community.

“There’s no way in hell anyone is going to limit what I have to say and how I have to say it,” Price said. “Not gonna happen.”

Councilmembers to weigh in by emoji? It’s one idea to shorten meetings

The ordinance also included the possibility of giving more citizens access to the public comment period, potentially providing a remote option that wouldn’t require driving to City Hall to physically sign up to participate

“It is unfair to expect the public to wait through the proceedings to speak on important issues,” Supernaw said Tuesday night. “That has always been the intention of this item, to give the public greater access to these meetings and have their voices heard and try to curtail the long waits that they have.”

An ordinance will come back to the council for final approval in the coming months but whatever is presented could fundamentally change as the council members continue to work out which guidelines they want written into law and which ones they’d like to “self-monitor” each other on.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.