By Igor Studenkov | Bugle Staff
The Park Ridge City Council gave staff a go-ahead to prepare ordinances that could change several aspects of the way meetings are conducted.
During the Aug. 22 procedures and regulations committee of the whole meeting, City Attorney Adam Simon presented a memorandum suggesting several ways the city could speed up meetings and the city council’s decision-making process.
The memo was prepared at the request of Sixth Ward Ald. Marc Mazzuca, who chairs the procedures and regulations committee.
The memo offers a number of suggestions. Most notably, it suggests counting a committee vote as the first of the required two readings, doing away with topic-based committee of the whole meetings and adding stricter time limits on public comment periods.
Other notable suggestions include ways to streamline the zoning amendment process and making the meetings of zoning-related boards and committees more efficient.
The memo was prepared by Simon and fellow city attorney Julie Tappendorf.
In it, they note that, in most cases, the city council tends to hold two readings, with a second reading counting as a final vote on most issues that come before it.
But, there is no rule actually requiring thar procedure.
The city council has waived the self-imposed requirement before, the memo said, and it’s currently not clear when it can do it.
The memo also noted that most ordinances go through two committee meetings – one for discussion and one for the actual vote – and at least two city council meetings.
“The practice means that an ordinance may take three or more months before it is finally acted on by the council,” the memo stated.
To address this, the attorneys suggested counting the committee vote as the first reading and the council vote as a second reading.
If aldermen felt the items deserved more discussion, it would be voted upon individually. If not, it would be part of the consent agenda.
“In the best case, this can accelerate the time for final action by 50 percent or more,” the memo stated.
The attorneys also looked at the way aldermen handle committee of the whole meetings.
Under the current procedures, the committee meets as the public works COW and public safety COW on the second Monday of each month, and as the finance COW and policies and procedures COW on the fourth Monday of each month.
The problem, the memo argued, is that when a committee decides to defer a vote on an issue, it gets deferred to the next meeting of that particular commission rather than the next committee of the whole meeting.
So instead of waiting two weeks, the aldermen must wait at least a month before returning to the issue.
To address this, the attorneys proposed doing away with distinctions between COWs, and simply using committee meetings to discuss any topic. If aldermen wanted to keep the current structure, the council proposed adding a standing item to all COW agendas that would allow aldermen to discuss items that did not fit a particular committee.
Another major proposal involved the way the city amends its zoning laws. Under the current procedure, if the city wants to change them, it has to go through a rules and procedures COW. The city council then must vote on whether to have the Park Ridge Planning and Zoning Commission hold a hearing.
The attorneys argued that this needlessly slowed down the process, and recommended holding the hearing at some earlier point.
The final major change would deal with public comments during the council meetings. The attorneys noted that the 5-minute time limit on individual comments isn’t always enforced.
They recommended reducing the time limit, or, failing that, enforcing the existing time limit consistently.
They also recommended putting a time limit on all comments, giving each speaker only one opportunity to speak on each agenda item and adding rules that would explicitly prohibit “disruptive, threatening and inflammatory behavior.”
And, in situations where several members of a single group come to the meeting to speak on the same issue, they recommended that the council “encourage groups to nominate a representative speaker,” rather than duplicating individual comments.
After Simon finished summarizing the contents of the memo, the public was given an opportunity to comment.
Resident Pat Livensparger said she didn’t believe the changes to the way public comments work were necessary.
“Usually, that’s not a problem to delay your effectiveness,” she said. “Most of the time, there’s nobody there. People only show up when they have something important to say, and you should listen.”
Acting Mayor Marty Maloney said he knew he personally didn’t always enforce the time limits. While he said he didn’t want to restrict residents’ ability to comment, he felt some suggestions made sense.
“There are times when people say the same thing again and again, and it does stop discussion,” he said.
Mazzuca felt that the public comments policy should be left to the discretion of each legislative body’s chairperson.
As far as distinctions between COWs, he agreed with First Ward Ald. Dan Moran, who noted that aldermen already consider more time-sensitive ordinances at the earliest COW possible.
Mazzuca instructed staff to put something together for future committee consideration.
“What I’d like to do is place all of those [recommendations], in some form or another, for future discussion,” he said.