Although the Mayor rarely provides the City Council much notice of upcoming agenda items, last week was especially egregious when we received the City’s 200-page Water System Plan just four days before the vote. Although other councilmembers have complained about the lack of time we have to review agenda items, the Mayor has brushed off those concerns, protesting that staff need more time to submit items for the agenda.
Agendas and Agenda Packets
I thought it valuable to ask our neighboring cities how far in advance their staff is able provide their councilmembers with council packets. Here’s a table with the answers. Unsurprisingly, no city listed gives as few days notice to councilmembers as Anacortes, and most give much more time.
|Days with |
||Friday at noon
||Friday by 4:30
||Thursday at noon
The number of workdays the Council has before the meeting is key, because staff aren’t available to answer questions on weekends. With Anacortes’s current system, Councilmembers who work Monday through Friday have essentially no time to get questions answered: if you read your packet Friday night or over the weekend, and email a question over the weekend, you can’t get an answer before Monday…leaving very little to time actually read the response between getting off work and the council meeting time.
Most of these other cities also provide much more detail on their agendas and in the packets. For example, most of the cities list whether the Mayor is requesting action (approval, discussion, or public hearing) on the agenda item. Some also list the dates, times, and locations of upcoming council committee meetings and public hearings. Oak Harbor even includes in their council packets a list of pending agenda items for future meetings—another thing that our councilmembers have requested, and we know the Mayor has, but he has refused to provide.
The Case of the Garbage Truck
It’s also useful to compare the content of those packets. For example, at our January 17, 2012, meeting, the City Council approved the purchase of a garbage truck. The packet the Mayor provided the Council included this memo and this 2007 generic purchasing agreement. Notably, the packet didn’t contain the description of the truck, or even the price of the truck. Not until the day of the meeting—only because I asked—did I learn the price was $320,000.
Contrast that with the City of Sedro-Woolley, which also just purchased a garbage truck. This excerpt from their February 22 council packet includes a much more detailed memo from the department head, including the cost of the truck and the balance and expected revenues for the fund from which they expected to pay for it. Their packet also included a detailed quote for the truck, so the council could see exactly what they were buying.
Maybe Sedro-Woolley bought a different truck than we did. Or maybe as a result of their more open process, where the specs on the truck they wanted to buy were open to public view, Sedro-Woolley spent just $292,000 on their garbage truck—almost $30,000 less than we spent.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Both the cities of Mount Vernon and Oak Harbor, and the Town of La Conner, set the deadline for agenda availability in their municipal code. They did so by passing a law, which is the way the legislative branch of government properly checks the action of the executive. That’s what the Anacortes City Council needs to do if it cares about performing its job at the level the voters expect.
* Correction March 19, 2012: This post originally indicated Burlington's City Council meets Fridays. They meet Thursdays.