Our Views: Change of meeting start times is reasonable

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Published in the Tacoma Weekly Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Changing the starting time of Pierce County Council meetings from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays is an idea worthy of consideration. Councilmember Connie Ladenburg, a Tacoma Democrat, recently proposed this change. Her reasoning is that since many people work on weekdays until 5 p.m., starting meetings at 3 p.m. limits the ability of the public to attend and offer testimony on issues before the council. Her fellow Tacoma Democrat, Councilmember Rick Talbert, is co-sponsoring her proposal.

Ladenburg and Talbert both served eight years on Tacoma City Council. While that body holds various committee meetings and study sessions on various dates at various times, its main meetings begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Attendance at those meetings varies, but they sometimes draw overflow crowds if a hot-button issue is before the council. They have observed the lively public discourse that can occur when people have an opportunity to attend meetings and participate in the process.

Changing the start time to 5 p.m. would result in slight cost increases for maintaining security screening at one entrance of the County/City Building and having a sheriff’s deputy on hand for the meetings. The council’s budget analyst estimates this at an additional $13,000 a year.

The Rules and Operations Committee voted 2-1 to postpone a decision until April 15, in order for the council to study the extra costs and possible start times.

The additional cost, as estimated, is miniscule when compared to the big financial picture of county government. Given that Pierce County Council positions are considered full-time jobs with generous compensation, expecting members to work into the evening once a week is reasonable.

If start times are changed to 5 p.m. and it is apparent that attendance has not noticeably increased, the decision could be reversed. At this point, we feel the council should adopt Ladenburg’s proposal.

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