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Three-month trial

City Council to try earlier meeting time starting in April

By Kendra Caruso | Feb 22, 2021
Source: File photo

Belfast — City Council decided at its Feb. 16 meeting to change the time its meetings start from 7 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on a three-month trial basis starting in April.

Mayor Eric Sanders introduced the idea because his work schedule will be changing, allowing him to attend meetings at an earlier time and to address discussions about how to more efficiently manage meetings so they do not run late into the night, he said.

The council previously discussed earlier meeting times at its last two goals workshops, according City Manager Erin Herbig.

Councilor Neal Harkness said he notices they work less efficiently toward the end of long meetings. Some people who have business to discuss with councilors end up waiting for hours at meetings before their agenda item is up for discussion.

Councilors were not against the time change, but had some reservations about how they would schedule other council business and how well the public would be notified about the time change.

Harkness was concerned that council interviews might run into the earlier meeting time. Councilor Mike Hurley said he thinks continuing to use Zoom even after the coronavirus pandemic ends could be effective, allowing councilors to conduct interviews before council meetings.

Councilor Paul Dean was concerned that after decades of starting council meetings at 7 p.m. it would be difficult to educate the public about the earlier start time.

Councilor Mary Mortier said she was concerned that councilors would not have enough time to eat before meetings. Currently meetings are being done via Zoom, which has made it easiert. But when in-person meetings resume, the earlier start time, coupled with last-minute submittals of public comments, could make it more difficult to eat, she said.

She was willing to give the earlier start time a try, but if they continue to get an influx of comments before meetings that they need to read or have to respond to other last-minute council responsibilities, then she will not support the earlier start time, she said.

Councilor Brenda Bonneville always thought it was challenging making decisions toward the end of meetings when they ran late, she said. But she does not know if an earlier start time will result in an earlier end time.

She would like to see a number of other changes to make the meetings flow better, like having committee members speak another night during busy meetings, among other changes, she said.

The 6:30 p.m. start time will begin April 6, so the city has enough time to advertise the change, and then will be revisited after three months, when the council will decide if it wants to keep the change.

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