A year after the Lakeland City Commission changed the starting time of its twice-a-month meetings from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at least one commissioner wants to return to a morning start.
As today’s meeting was drawing to a close, Commissioner Bill Read made a motion to revert to the 9 a.m. start time. The issue has centered around public participation, but by the time Read made his motion, the commission chamber was empty of outside observers other than a couple of reporters.
In the end, Read withdrew his motion after other commissioners suggested they need more data — and perhaps the input of any new commissioners elected in November.
Discussion of the issue centered around whether the change in meeting time resulted in its intended purpose: getting more citizens to participate.
The answer? Nobody’s been tracking it.
Several commissioners and City Manager Tony Delgado said they sense that more people are showing up for ceremonial proclamations issued near the start of the meetings but that the number of people who speak at audience participation time at the end of the meeting is about the same as before the change.
When the new meeting times started last Sept. 4, commissioner said they thought it would be easier for people with conventional 9-to-5 jobs to either leave work a little early or come straight from work if they wanted to address the commission.
Under the previous routine, there was a brief public participation period just before 10 a.m. — if the presentations and proclamations at the beginning of the meeting didn’t run long — and again at the end of the official business, whenever that happened to be.
LkldNow tracked the public participation opportunities for the first seven meetings after the change was made last fall. (We stopped tracking it in mid-December because this reporter missed several meetings.)
Out of those seven meetings, there was only one when somebody would have been able to speak if they got off work at 5 and had to make their way to City Hall and upstairs to the meeting room. That was Nov. 18, when a lengthy discussion about Lakeland’s Confederate monument pushed public participation time back to 6:57 p.m.
In the other six meetings, the public participation period started between 4:30 and 5:10 – hardly enough time to get to the meeting if you didn’t work within a few blocks.
Out of those seven meetings, there were four when nobody spoke during public participation time. There were two speakers on Oct. 15 and three on Dec. 3. Eleven people spoke on Nov. 5, as the commission was nearing a controversial decision on funding to move the city’s Confederate monument.
During today’s discussion, Commissioner Justin Troller said he’s been a proponent of holding at least some business meetings in the evenings to increase engagement and supported the switch to 3 p.m. meetings only as a compromise.
At first he said he’d oppose Read’s motion, but then said it’s a decision his successor should make. His final term ends this year, and four candidates are in contention for his at-large seat. (A fifth declared candidate, Pablo Sologaistoa, withdrew from the race last week.)
Both Mayor Bill Mutz and Commissioner Stephanie Madden said they wanted to get more input from the public before voting.
City Communications Director Kevin Cook said it would be best to wait to survey citizens since the city has sponsored several surveys already this year, including one just launched to get perspectives on a broadband utility.
With that, Read rescinded his motion in order to get more citizen input before deciding whether to change meeting times.