If you care when board meets, weigh inPublished 12:16pm Friday, June 28, 2013
With a few months experience with its new consent agenda, the Cass County Board of Commissioners is evaluating how to tweak the format. If you care when the county board meets, let yourself be heard because no decision has been reached after a half-hour discussion at commissioners’ work session June 22.
Way back in the 1980s, commissioners met in the daytime and had a group of regulars who attended meetings. As time went on, meetings moved to first 4 p.m., then 7 p.m., which was thought to give constituents who worked days easier access to elected officials, though in reality ordinary citizens mostly quit coming.
Under discussion is whether to separate the 6 p.m. Committee of the Whole (COW), which encourages audience participation and is more democratic, and the formal meeting an hour later because the board feels like it’s racing to finish.
Berrien County Board of Commissioners, which meets almost every Thursday rather than twice a month, conducts committee work at 8:30 with the formal proceedings at 10:30. When issues emerge from committee, however, they appear on the following agenda.
Cass’ COW topics were expected to appear on the agenda two weeks hence, too.
“It’s not what we intended,” Commissioner Annie File said. “The meeting before the meeting is virtually useless without enough time to discuss issues we’re concerned about as a board. That part isn’t working.”
“Committee of the Whole was never intended to be right before the Board of Commissioners,” County Administrator Louis Csokasy said. “It was always intended to be a Monday or a Tuesday morning.”
But “the consensus around the table was that they needed to be at the same time. I disagreed then and I disagree now,” Csokasy said. “The majority of items that come before this board won’t wait a month. You need to have one meeting a month on the third Thursday and a Committee of the Whole meeting on the first Thursday during work hours because most people presenting are here 8 to 5, whether it’s the sheriff, clerk or equalization manager. Having them come at 7 o’clock at night does not show them respect,” with which File disagrees: “I’m here for 7,000 people.”
Dowagiac Commissioner Clark Cobb said, “I guess the thought was saving fuel. Why drive over twice? We have department head input at night. It’s not disrespectful, it’s just part of some jobs.”
“We didn’t want to have meetings in the afternoon so people with jobs have the ability to come,” Commissioner Robert Ziliak of Milton Township said, “so 6 is the earliest we feel comfortable. I have to agree with Commissioner File that I don’t feel this is working the way it is. I tell everybody meetings start at 6 and go to 8 because we turn around and discuss at the board meeting everything we discussed in committee.”
Commissioner Robert Wagel said, “I concur with Mr. Cobb there’s no need to make two trips” — especially with each of seven commissioners shouldering more other meetings than when there were 15 last year.
“I concur with Louie’s thoughts on this issue. I think we need to back up to 5:30, giving a little break between (COW) and the regular meeting.”
The board, which even broached adding a second comment period at the conclusion, should try separating meetings for a few months to see how it goes. It should keep well-established first and third Thursdays, the more relaxed COW and should not fear meeting earlier — even in the daytime — because citizens historically attend more frequently then than in the evening