091715i council meetingsHow do you know there’s an election coming up fast?

When two of the longest-serving city councillors, David Maher and Tim Toomey, propose canceling nearly half of the term’s remaining City Council meetings. Combined, their proposals to the full council would scrap two of the remaining 13 and turn four into roundtables, which the council sees as more in-depth discussions into a topic than can be fit into a traditional council meeting.

Opinion boxMaher, now serving his second term as mayor during his 16 years on the council, will propose at Monday’s council meeting to take two meetings before Election Day, which is Nov. 3, and turn them into roundtables about opioid abuse (Oct. 5) and citywide planning (Oct. 26). Since the meetings taking place the night before voting (in this case, Nov. 2) are almost always brief so candidates can relax or do last-minute campaigning – two years ago, an hour and 43 minutes; four years ago, an hour and 21 minutes – that leaves two meetings of decision-making and substance before the elections.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the agendas of those remaining two meetings to see whether they wind up unusually light. That would make it seem as though incumbents are simply avoiding controversial votes shortly before voters go to the polls.

The agenda is heavier with roundtables than in past election years; but then, the council has has been emphasizing roundtables more in general. After the elections, Maher wants two meetings turned over to them, one with the School Committee (Nov. 16) and one to discuss transportation issues (Dec. 14).

Toomey, now serving his 26th year on the council, has taken it upon himself to cancel the holiday-adjacent Nov. 30 and Dec. 28 meetings – which, if held, would likely draw complaints that debate was going on and decisions being made while the public’s attention was elsewhere, and when many constituents were out of town.

In the meetings after Election Day, some of the incumbents may be lame ducks, and they’ll likely have four more meetings out of a potential eight to make their votes count.

Coming after a long summer in which there was a single council meeting, losing 46 percent of the legislative sessions that remain is unfortunate. But the chances are good these proposals will be approved.

For voters, that makes it more important than ever to watch what councillors do in the serious legislative time that remains after the council votes on the schedule policy orders of Maher and Toomey: Sept. 28 and Oct. 19 (and, possibly, Nov. 2).