Sunday, May 26, 2024

The City Council meets in historic Sullivan Chamber in City Hall with a traditional two-month break in summer – now equipped with ceiling fans – save for one potentially marathon special meeting. (Photo: LDA Architects)

The City’s Council’s summer meeting is being bumped by a day, to Tuesday, because the agenda didn’t post in time to comply with state Open Meeting Law.

The delay was announced at around 1 p.m. Friday by the Mayor’s Office, with Mayor Marc McGovern noting an agenda of “approximately 1,700 pages of material.” The city website and its social media were slow to reflect the change.

By centuries-old tradition based around the lack of cooling in the council’s Sullivan Chamber at City Hall, the nine-member body takes a break from regular Monday meetings in July and August, holding just one special meeting on the Monday in the middle of the break. That was to be Monday – July 29. (The School Committee also follows the tradition.)

But on Friday, city staff were scrambling to put together a Tuesday, July 30, meeting, starting with ensuring there was a quorum of councillors to attend.

State law says that except in an emergency, public bodies shall “file meeting notices sufficiently in advance of a public meeting to permit posting of the notice at least 48 hours in advance of the public meeting, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.” The agenda for Monday didn’t post online until after 9 p.m. Thursday, or more than three hours after intended; and instead of being delivered to councillors in City Hall, the massive printed version had to be delivered to each councillor’s home after City Hall closed at noon Friday.

Subtracting Saturday and Sunday, the posting time would mean the Monday meeting would be allowed to start at around 9 p.m., instead of at the scheduled 5:30 p.m. start.

“Technical difficulties prevented the publication of the special meeting agenda for Monday, July 29, 2019, until late in the evening of July 25. To comply with Open Meeting Law posting requirements, I am rescheduling the meeting,” said a Friday email from McGovern’s. The mayor sent out his own, more detailed email that was less widely distributed.

Councillor Jan Devereux, who is not running for reelection in November, said “the delay in publishing the [1,748]-page agenda” was cause to question the tradition of the council summer break.

“[It] indicates that the tradition of observing a summer ‘recess’ where the council meets only once in July and August is obsolete,” Devereux said. “Not only does the infrequency of meetings lead to unwieldy agendas and marathon meetings, it holds up important legislation.”

“I certainly understand the desire for a period when councillors and city staff can be free of the weekly Monday meeting schedule in order to take vacations, but in reality many of us are working during summer anyway,” she said. “Important committee hearings continue to be scheduled during the recess, and our boards and commissions meet through the summer.”

Most councillors could be available for meetings every two weeks, she said, or at some other agreed-upon frequency in summer. “I intend to propose that a change be considered,” she said.

The agenda included 33 items from the City Manager’s Office; 25 policy orders from councillors; five items calendared from previous meetings; 11 applications and petitions; 29 resolutions; nine committee reports; and three communications and reports from city officers. All could be pulled for discussion by councillors or be fodder for three-minute public commentaries, and there are already 63 communications from the public listed.