Late Nights with the Commission

July 15th, 2007
Article #138

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

How many of you have sat through what seemed like interminable hearings? These "slow waltz" meetings affect public participation and the decision-making process in a variety of ways.

The length and pace of our hearings has a direct impact on the quality of public participation and decision-making. Both excessively long and short meetings do a disservice to the public and ourselves. Each commission varies greatly in their approach to time management, but I suggest any hearing longer than 3 hours or later than 10:00 pm is too long; and any individual case less than 3 minutes is too brief.

Mine Eyes Glaze Over

How many of you have sat through what seemed like interminable hearings? These "slow waltz" meetings affect public participation and the decision-making process in a variety of ways. Several years ago I attended a planning commission hearing that lasted so long, the commissioners took a fifteen minute break at 2:00 am in anticipation of going another two hours! What does this say about that process?

When I was a commissioner in another city, our hearings began in the morning, and on occasion went well into the evening -- sometimes lasting more than ten hours! These were true "buns of steel" hearings. At a certain point in a long hearing, the time invested and the lateness of the hour begin to influence the process.

Here are some concerns about lengthy hearing:

clock showing midnight in front of a tired manPhysical Considerations. What affects do lengthy meetings have on the human body? There are measurable changes in the ability to concentrate, communicate, and deliberate after several hours seated at a hearing. Meetings that last several hours into the night restrict public participation to only the hardiest of citizens. No elderly; no youth; no citizens who have family and work responsibilities that do not allow for "all-nighters." Public participation should not be Darwinian.

Emotional Considerations. What affects do long meetings have on one's temperament? Sometimes you can see distinct changes in attitude -- what would have been a difficult meeting in an hour or two becomes Dante's inferno after three hours.

Mental Considerations. What affects do lengthy meetings have on mental acuity? Good decision-making under duress is severely compromised. Does the commission feel obligated to meet expectations to go to the bitter end? Commissioners need to give their fullest attention to, and strongest consideration for each case and speaker.

Social Considerations. After several hours, time becomes a strong social factor. How does one tell the public after hours of waiting to speak, they must come back another time only to possibly wait again?

End of excerpt

... article continues with some suggestions from Ric Stephens on dealing with the problem of overly long meetings.

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