Editorial: Get rid of the citys preagenda meetings

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Albert Lea City Council would be wise to get rid of the Thursday night preagenda meetings and come to the Monday night regular meetings prepared to discuss matters on the agenda.

&8220;Preagenda&8221; is an awkward term for it because the agenda is pretty much set before that meeting. And back in the days when smoking was allowed in public buildings, they once were held in the proverbial smoked-filled back room.

Today, the preagenda meetings are in public view in the council chambers but still serve as a means to discuss matters with less public scrutiny. They are poorly attended and are broadcast neither on radio nor cable television. That discussion needs &8212; not should, needs &8212; to happen in the public limelight of the regular City Council meeting.

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Firstly, the councilors would have to read their packets more thoroughly and have to correspond with city staff better than at present. (Goodness knows this alone would help considerably.) Secondly, they would fulfill campaign promises to make the city more open to public scrutiny. Thirdly, the city would appear more professional because debate is taking place where citizens expect it. Fourthly, the public would gain greater insight and understanding of city matters and reasons for decisions. And finally, councilors would learn to focus on the big decisions and stop squabbling over so many petty matters.

Albert Lea wants to grow, wants to act like a bigger, more professional place, right? How many City Council members have ever attended a council meeting in a larger city such as Rochester, Mason City or Minneapolis? We encourage them to visit these places and watch how government works. It won&8217;t be perfect &8212; no government entity is &8212; but the council members will notice an emphasis on elected officials debating in the public spotlight and on being properly prepared for meetings.

The Albert Lea City Council doesn&8217;t even take minutes for the preagenda meeting. That&8217;s a sign of backwardness because it means less public accountability for a meeting already that lacks accountability.

In fact, Mayor Randy Erdman, rightly, favors getting rid of the preagenda meeting, too. He agrees that it harms debate on Monday nights, where the public discussion over crucial decisions should be made.

City Council, move this city forward. Drop of the preagenda meetings.