Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 5, 2013

Step backward

Eliminating night meetings would lessen participation

The Independent

ASHLAND — We agree with Larry Brown, the lone member of the Ashland Board of City Commissioners to oppose a motion requesting City Attorney Richard “Sonny” Martin to draft an ordinance changing the time for all commission meetings to noon.

A daytime meeting makes it impossible for those who work during the day to attend meetings of their city governing body without missing work. We think elected officials should always encourage their constituents to attend the meetings of city commissions and councils, fiscal courts and board of educations. Unfortunately, too many of those meetings already are in the daytime, and the Ashland city commission seems ready to add one more to the list.

Currently, the Ashland Board of City Commissioners meets the first and third Thursdays of the month. The first Thursday meeting is at noon and the third Thursday meeting at 7 p.m.

However, city commissioners Thursday voted 4-1 to ask Martin to draft an ordinance changing the meeting times for the city commission to the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, with both meetings beginning at noon.

In opposing the change, Brown said he believed having the meetings at two different times during the month allowed a broader range of residents to attend. With both meetings at noon, he said the city risks preventing residents who are unable to leave work for lunch to attend a city meeting from being able to attend. He said he believes “a majority” of residents can attend a night meeting.

While the noon commission meetings are better attended than the evening meetings, that is no reason to discontinue meeting at night. Whether they begin at noon or at 7 p.m., most city commission meetings are not well attended. That’s because most residents of the city have little interest in what the commission is doing because it has little effect on their lives.

However, now and then, the city commission does take up a matter that stirs the interest of individual citizens. It may be a proposed zoning change for a parcel of land near where they live, or a change in the traffic pattern on a neighborhood street. It may be a city requirement for the type of surfaces required on roadways on private property that individuals think is too costly and not necessary.  It could be an ordinance that would directly impact a business.

When such issues are brought before the commission for a vote, those who support or oppose them will likely want the opportunity to address the commission, and they should not have to miss work to do so.

All city commission used to be at night, but it was City Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs who convinced the commission to add one daytime meeting a month. We supported that because we thought it would encourage more citizen participation. It has done just that.

Now Spriggs is joining other commissioners in supporting the elimination of the one remaining evening commission meeting a month. We find that inconsistent because it would undo just what Spriggs was trying to do by adding the daytime meeting.

Brown has it right. The city’s number one governing board should encourage maximum attendance and participation by city residents. The fact that few residents attend the evening meeting is no reason to limit their opportunity to do so.

This issue is far from over. The ordinance Martin writes will require two votes by the city commission before final approval. If any residents think, like us, that only having daytime meetings is a bad idea, they should express their views at a commission meeting. We just hope they don’t have to take off time from work to do so.