OCEAN CITY — The Mayor and Council will officially meet a few less times in 2020 after a new schedule was approved this week, but not as fewer as some would like.
During Tuesday’s work session, the Mayor and Council had before them the rather mundane issue of approving the meeting schedule for the 2020 calendar year. City Clerk Diana Chavis presented a typical Mayor and Council meeting schedule with alternating regular meetings on Monday nights and work sessions on Tuesday afternoons.
For next year, however, Chavis recommended a 45-meeting schedule dropping two Monday night meetings that would typically be held. The two dropped Monday meetings would fall during the Maryland Municipal League (MML) conference in the resort in late June and the Monday during the White Marlin Open (WMO) in August.
However, Councilman John Gehrig expressed a desire to take it a step further. Whenever a scheduled Monday meeting falls on a municipal holiday, it is typically rescheduled for the next day on a Tuesday. Next week is a perfect example with what would normally be a Monday night meeting pushed to Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday.
Gehrig suggested dropping those meetings that are typically moved to Tuesdays, which would include three more throughout the year, reducing the total number of regular sessions and work sessions to 42.
“I’m going to ask to remove a few more,” he said. “I’d like to remove any meeting that we cancel because of a holiday and that we don’t move them to the next day. That’s three more.”
Gehrig said if a particular issue came up that needed immediate attention in the interim, a meeting could be called to order. However, Chavis pointed out because of the need to prepare agendas, coordinate with department heads, schedule presenters and publicize meetings, it was better to schedule them and then take them away if they were not needed.
“It’s easier to schedule a meeting and then cancel it then it is to try and add a meeting,” she said.
Throughout the year, particularly during the summer months, there are often meetings with just one or two items on the agenda, resulting in brief meetings when it takes more time for the prayer and pledge than the actual official business. Gehrig had at least one supporter in eliminating three more meetings in Councilman Matt James.
“I would agree we meet a lot,” he said. “Probably more than we need to sometimes.”
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out once a meeting is scheduled, there is a need or desire to put at least something on the agenda whether it is time-sensitive or not.
“I think it’s a relevant conversation,” he said. “If you don’t think you need that meeting, it’s a good idea to do it now. If you put a meeting on the schedule, it will inevitably fill up with some things and we’ll have a meeting with just one thing on the agenda and we have a meeting that lasts 20 minutes.”
However, Councilman Dennis Dare said it is the expectation that the council meets regularly to conduct the town’s business.
“Our staff works 40 hours a week preparing this stuff and they look at their bosses that can’t come in for an hour a week,” he said. “I just think things would get put off and put off.”
Typically, official business, such as voting on ordinances, is conducted during the Monday regular meetings. However, Gehrig pointed out there is no reason why those votes can’t be taken during Tuesday work sessions if need be in order to keep an ordinance approval on schedule.
“It’s not like we don’t vote on things during work sessions,” he said. “We can get the people’s work done with less meetings.”
Gehrig dismissed the notion cutting out a few more meetings signaled less of a commitment from the city’s elected officials.
“Even if we do this schedule, we still meet three or four times a month,” he said. “It’s not about the time commitment because we all spend a lot of time outside of the meetings preparing.”
However, Dare pointed out the meetings are essentially public forums, which would be lessened if the schedule was cut.
“When you cut out a meeting, you also cut out an opportunity for the public to speak,” he said. “In addition to that, you also have ordinances that need a first and second reading and that could be pushed back for weeks.”
Gehrig said following that logic, it was a little disingenuous to cut the three meetings proposed in Chavis’ schedule.
“It cuts both ways,” he said. “If you talk about removing the Aug. 3 meeting because we want to hang out at the White Marlin Open, that’s inconsistent with what you’re saying.”
In the end, the council rejected Gehrig’s motion to eliminate the three meetings moved to Tuesdays because of holidays with a 4-3 vote. The council then approved the schedule recommended by Chavis with the MML and WMO Monday meetings eliminated.