Westminster Councilmen Consider Work Sessions

October 23, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — After its latest meeting nearly turned into a slumber party, the City Council is looking for a better way to handle its burgeoning workload.

More work for the council means hearty agendas that lead to lengthy meetings. The Oct. 14 council gathering stretched five hours, until 12:30 a.m.

That's the longest meeting in recent memory and could rank as thelongest ever, city administrators said.

The recent post-midnight affair is the exception more than the rule. But council members concur that the workload is ballooning and that, without some action, protracted meetings could become routine.

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown saidthe time has come for the council to consider meeting in work sessions the week before the twice-monthly regular meetings. During work sessions, such as those used by the county commissioners, officials cando much of the preliminary debate and discussion on issues, leaving the regular meetings for acting on them.

Brown said work sessions,like regular meetings, would be open to the public. The members agree that something must be done, but some stopped short of saying that formalized work sessions are the answer.

"It's too early to determine whether we need additional meetings," said Councilman Edward S. Calwell. "I'm not for getting locked into any more meetings. I'd rather take a wait-and-see attitude."

Calwell said he thinks the council is encountering an unusually busy stretch that will "flatten out" in time.

Some members agree that the council needs more meeting time, but not on a regular basis.

"I'm not the type of person who likes meetings just for meetings' sake," said Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. "But I am in favor of meeting for a specific situation . . . on the off week."

Kenneth A. Yowan is in a good position to assess the evolution of the council workload. He was voted to the council inMay, after having previously served from 1982-1986.

"The workload's definitely grown since I was previously on the council," he said.

But Yowan expressed concern about off-week work sessions because they would leave members with very few open weeks during the year. As it is, it's hard enough for council members to schedule the rest of their lives -- families, careers, vacations -- around council obligations, he said.

Yowan said the answer might lie in holding special meetings when the workload demands them.

Council President William F. Haifley said the council will discuss the growing workload at its Monday meeting, but declined to comment. Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein could not be reached for comment.

Yet the workload isn't the only factor at work, members say. Calwell, a councilman since 1989, said the current council -- with three new members after the May election -- spends more time debating issues than the previous council did.

"The new council is very articulate," he said. "They don't just want to gloss over all these issues. They're raising a lot more questions than the previous council."

There's also more involvement by citizens, which stretches meetings, Calwell said.

"A lot of people are waking up and coming to council meetings," he said. "I think it's great."

When thinking of more meetings, the council must consider more pay, Brown said. The salary structure for the mayor and council has been in effect since 1985. Besides being outstripped by inflation, the salaries would need review if more demands were put on the elected officials, he said.

The mayor makes $10,000 annually, with thecouncil president earning $3,000 and the other council members getting $2,400.

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