Last week’s Observer staff editorial, and inflammatory headline, detailing and criticizing a governing body vote to change its meeting time does not provide sufficient background or context.
I do commend the Observer for at least acknowledging that some of their opposition was self-serving — Wednesdays at 6 p.m. works better for their staff — and that, and this is key, there is no perfect meeting time to accommodate everyone.
The first of three public discussions and meetings on this topic occurred in February, all of which can be viewed on the city’s website. What was discussed included public-comment legal requirements versus what is discretionary, what other communities do for meetings and general pros and cons of making a change.
Several misconceptions exist regarding governing body meetings. The idea that these meetings have to be held at night in order to allow citizens to attend in person and offer comments, because this is the only avenue to do so and all government entities function in this manner, is off-base.
Does the U.S. Congress or New Mexico State Legislature only hold hearings, take public input and debate and vote on items on weekdays between the hours of 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.? The answer is no.
Sandoval County has changed to 4 p.m., Albuquerque starts meetings at 5 p.m. and Las Cruces does so at 1 p.m. Other communities around the country conduct meetings at a variety of times, including 9 a.m.
Historically, virtually no citizens attend governing body meetings in person and offer public comments, and this has been the case when the meetings started at 6 p.m.
In ultra-rare cases when citizens have shown up to offer comments, predominatly the reason is because a matter on the agenda affects their property. When this occurred, and the meeting started at 6 p.m., this meant that these citizens potentially had to take time off work if they did not have a traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule (which less and less do), missed dinner with their family and/or had to pay for a babysitter.
What is certain about holding night meetings are the costs and inconvenience for the necessary public-safety presence and the professional consultants who must attend meetings to present information and answer questions, as well as very long work days (12 hours and longer) for some city staff. With that being the case, it makes sense to change meeting times for operational and cost-efficiency reasons alone.
In July, when governing body meetings shift to the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 4 p.m., the public will still be able to do the following:
- Watch live or archived video of the meetings online and review meeting documents;
- Contact, via phone or email, their elected officials to express their opinion about meeting items;
- Submit written comments and have them entered into the official public-meeting record; and/or
- Attend the meeting in person and offer their opinion, thus requiring an individual to adjust their schedule in some manner, which has always been the case.
(Dan Stoddard serves as the District 6 city councilor on the Rio Rancho Governing Body. He was elected in March.)
Editor’s note: The Sandoval County Commission said the change in its regular meeting time is temporary, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why we don’t take issue with it.