Dallas City Council meetings, long a haven for politicians, lawyers, journalists and others who can't find honest jobs, could be getting a little more open, pending a Wednesday council vote.
Like many big cities, all four of Dallas' council meetings are held in the morning. Beginning at 9 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, the council is briefed by city staff on things that will be voted on at a later date. Agenda, or voting meetings, are held on the second and fourth Wednesday's of the month, also at 9 a.m.. If any public hearings are scheduled as part of the agenda meeting — a contentious zoning case for instance — they can be held no earlier than 1 p.m., after the council returns from its lunch break.
If a month has a fifth Wednesday, council members get that day off.
Under a proposal drawn up by council members Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Omar Narvaez, Kevin Felder and Philip Kingston, that first agenda of each month, the one held on the second Tuesday, would begin at 2 p.m. Public hearing scheduled for that meeting would begin no earlier than 6 p.m..
Holding the meeting later in the day, the council members argue, will allow Dallas residents who can't otherwise get off work or afford to spend most of their day at City Hall to better participate in civic life.
"We want to be able to give people an opportunity — at least once a month — to be able to attend and participate in a council meeting without having to take off of work," Kingston says.
If the policy passes the council, Kingston says that, for the time being, items especially interesting to the public could be pushed onto the second week's agenda. Eventually, he said, the city could move to holding both of its monthly agenda meetings later in the day.
"The other effect that I hope we see is just increased participation, that people are more inclined to weigh in on every issue, not just the big ones," Kingston says.
Narvaez said that he hopes having meetings at two different times could be beneficial in its own way.
"Both groups, those who can come in the morning and those who can come in the evening would at least get the opportunity to attend one of the two agenda meetings that we have a month," Narvaez says.
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If he knows that constituents interested in a particular agenda item are more likely to come at a particular time, Narvaez said, he'll look to get that item schedule for the appropriate week.
Thursday night, Scott Goldstein, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' spokesman, told the Observer that, while the mayor thinks the aim of the proposed change is a noble one, he hasn't yet decided if he'll support changing the meeting times.
"If the goal is increased citizen engagement, then having afternoon/evening meetings exclusively at Dallas City Hall is probably not the right approach," Goldstein says. "It would make a whole lot more sense to move the meetings around the city to make them more accessible to folks outside of the immediate downtown area."
Moving council meeting to a more convenient time for the public participation would put Dallas in line with local cities like Fort Worth, Arlington and Plano, all of which hold at least some of their council meetings at night.