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- 2005 - February - 22nd -

Councilman wants new voting system

J. Brooks Terry

City Council member Art Shad says government gets things done at a slower-than-average pace and that the Council doesn’t need to slow that process down any more.

Shad filed two companion bills last week; one that would modify the number of votes needed to move legislation out of committee and another that would post Council member attendance at those biweekly meetings on the City’s webpage.

The Council works via a standing committee cycle. After a minimum of three weeks, a committee recommends whether or not a bill should pass when the full Council convenes to vote.

Legally, at least four of the seven committee members must be present at those meetings in order to do business. Four votes are needed to send legislation before the full Council, not a majority of those present.

Shad, who chairs the Public Health, Safety & Utilities Committee, said allowing the “number of committee members present” to offer a recommendation would prevent many bills from languishing weeks longer than necessary.

“A bill needs at least four votes to move it out of committee, so if only four Council members are present and only one of them opposes it, it has to be deferred.” he said. “I’m sure many of my colleagues have had that happen to bills they’re sponsoring. I know I have and I have issues with that.”

If Shad’s legislation is approved, a minimum of three out of four votes could compile the necessary committee report.

“I just feel like there is room for improvement and that, at the end of the day, it’s in the public’s best interest that we look at doing something like this,” Shad said. “If the public makes arrangements to be at City Hall to attend a committee meeting and nothing is accomplished, it’s a disservice to them. They’re the ones who are having to pay.”

Committee attendance is not a “huge problem,” he said, but it is “far from perfect.”

“Yes, there is room for improvement because we were elected to do this job and we need to be present to take care of business,” he said. “Being late or not showing up at all without an excuse is not acceptable.”

Council member Suzanne Jenkins agreed: “The bulk of the work we do is in committee, not on the Council floor.”

“After a certain point I do think we need to examine how seriously we take our responsibilities as elected officials,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes there are things that are out of our control that prevent us from being present in committee, but we need to keep it to a minimum.”

Attendance records are already public record but Shad said the convenience of not having to ask for it may bolster Council accountability and efficiency.

“That’s something I do want to stress,” he said. “The public already has the right to know. Putting that information online just makes it more readily available.”

Shad said he has met with Council President Elaine Brown to discuss both bills, though at this time she has not offered any public support.

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