Editorial: Time for serious talk about city council meeting times
Are Salisbury City Council members doing their job?
As stewards of millions in taxpayer dollars, government officials should be transparent and open about every facet of local government. Our elected leaders — city council, county commissioners and other jobs requiring the vote of the people — should subscribe to a single ideal: transparency.
No government sets a perfect example for transparency, but the easiest way to start would be holding public meetings at a reasonable hour.
Salisbury City Council members meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. County Commissioners meet on the first and third Monday. On first Mondays, commissioners meet at 3 p.m. On third Mondays, commissioners meet at 6 p.m.
Too frequently, meeting rooms sit empty when elected officials meet. Changing meeting times, however, wouldn’t increase public participation. City Council and county commissioners would still sit in a mostly empty room regardless of what hour they meet. Most local government matters simply aren’t interesting enough to draw significant public turnout.
Controversial matters nearly always draw large crowds. For county commissioners, prayer lawsuit discussions drew a standing-room-only crowd of people. The same was true when Salisbury City Council members allowed the public to debate whether downtown’s “Fame” monument should be taken down.
By changing meeting times to allow the working class to attend, public officials allow the widest potential for turnout. Maybe a sprinkling of residents would attend every meeting. During controversial matters, however, the crowd would extend out of the building.
County commissioners have a 6 p.m. meeting time, which allows for wider public participation. Whether they correctly use the 6 p.m. time is another matter. Salisbury’s City Council, however, only meets at a singular time — 4 p.m. It’s a perfect time for students, retirees and those who work odd hours. Others need to leave work early to attend.
If there’s a desire to change meeting times, endless solutions exist. City Council members could adopt a format similar to county commissioners or draft their own idea. Whatever the solution, there’s enough public discussion about the matter to warrant a significant conversation by council members.
Regardless of political leanings, an important job of every elected official is to remain unquestionably transparent. If Salisbury City Council members can’t encourage transparency, are they really doing their job?