Night is right when it comes to meetings

As a reporter of facts, I’m supposed to be neutral when it comes to issues going on around The Circle. It’s hard sometimes.

One of the issues that disturbs me is the current county council meeting schedule. In a word, it stinks.

With the Republicans taking control, and because Councilman George Cole pushed for it, the council meeting time was changed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Public hearings for subdivisions and zoning changes are scheduled in the second half of meetings at 6 p.m. There is supposed to be time allotted for a dinner break between the afternoon and evening sessions.

In the past, on a normal month, the council held three day meetings starting at 10 a.m. and one night meeting with public hearings.

The rationale for the change was to keep from extending the night meeting into late-night hours and to keep county staff overtime hours to a minimum.

It was also changed to allow more access to meetings. Having a meeting at 10 a.m. leaves the working public in the dark. The theory was that starting at 3 p.m. would allow people to take off work for one or two hours instead of a half a day or so.

So far, not many 6 p.m. public hearings have started on time. Every council meeting this year has ended with an executive session that runs into the aforementioned dinner break.

Yet, council members do take time to eat, as the public sits and waits for hearings to begin.

Council members seem to be under the mistaken impression that it doesn’t matter what time meetings begin. They feel if there is an important issue on the agenda, people will show up.

Their perspective comes from people who are either retired or work on their own schedule as owners of their own businesses.

The rationale is flawed. The meetings are still held during the day and exclude working people from attending, and the night sessions still require the same planning and zoning staff and recording secretary be present for public hearings.

Many times not enough time is allotted to conduct regular business before the public hearing sessions begin.

I am willing to bet that there are some upcoming public hearings that will keep people out very late beyond their bed times, so the idea of keeping residents off the roads late at night is also blown out of the water.

I have never understood why the council held its meetings during the day except that it was for the convenience of busy council members who didn’t want to be out additional nights.

Most public bodies hold meetings at times amenable to the public. That’s why most town councils and school boards have meetings at night. And some town councils in resort towns plan their meetings at odd times like Saturday mornings so weekend residents can attend.

Do they know something the Sussex County Council does not know?

Meetings should be at night when most members of the public are able to attend. Perhaps a more viable schedule would be to start regular meetings at 6 p.m. and when public hearings are scheduled, they could back up the schedule to 5 p.m.

I’ll give the council a “C” for trying, but the new schedule is not much better than the old one.

I would also hate to be out four nights every month covering the meetings, but it’s not about me, and it’s certainly not about the five members of the council. It’s all about the residents of Sussex County.

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