Pierce County Councilmember Connie Ladenburg thinks that starting council meetings later could boost attendance. The council holds its main meetings on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. at the County/City Building. Ladenburg, who began her first term on the council in January, has proposed changing this to 5 p.m. A primary reason is that many people are working when meetings start and thus cannot attend.
Ladenburg first proposed the idea at the council’s annual retreat. She has offered an ordinance, which is being considered by the Rules and Operations Committee. It consists of Councilmembers Rick Talbert, Joyce McDonald and Stan Flemming. It is scheduled to review the matter at 10 a.m. on April 15, and vote on whether to forward the proposal to the full council. Talbert has co-sponsored the ordinance.
When he and Ladenburg served on Tacoma City Council, sometimes that body would postpone deciding on an issue if public comment raised concerns. “It helps us to make better decisions,” Ladenburg remarked. “I think better legislation occurs from public input. How can we represent them without hearing their voice?”
If her idea fails to move forward, Ladenburg wants to form a committee to explore other options to make county government more accessible. One possibility could be telephone town halls, which many state legislators use. A county communications staff person would be a member to offer input.
The council is required to hold 50 meetings per year. Seven are held in the council districts around the county and start in the early evening.
“I am glad that we go out into the community to reach the people that way,” Ladenburg said, but she noted that a meeting in Bonney Lake is inconvenient for Key Peninsula residents to attend. “Our county is so spread out. It is hard to satisfy everyone.”
Holding meetings later would not guarantee a room full of people, she acknowledged. “I just want to give that choice back to people.”
Keeping the building open later would boost security costs slightly, by about $14,000. Ladenburg noted that this is 5/100ths of 1 percent of the total county budget. “Can we justify that extra cost to have open and transparent government?”
One concern she has heard from her colleagues is that a later start time could prevent them from attending city councils meetings around the county, which typically start at 7 p.m. on Mondays or Tuesdays.
She encourages county residents to call or e-mail their council member to offer feedback on her proposal.