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Government meeting times need to change

By Scott Tibbs. Printed in the Bloomington Herald-Times, August 1, 2012

Every two weeks, the Monroe County Commissioners meet to approve payroll and claims, and often they vote on legislation. This legislation includes signage ordinances, bans on smoking in public places and in your automobile, and land use regulations. They do this at a time when they know many members of the public cannot attend, thereby hiding their meetings from the taxpayers who pay their salary and fund county government.

The Bloomington City Council, meanwhile, meets at 7:30 on Wednesday evenings. Someone who works a traditional 8 to 5 schedule can easily attend a city council meeting, every week if he wants to. This schedule allows working people to serve on the city council, something that is not an option for people who might otherwise consider running for county commissioner. The Monroe County Council has moved its meeting times to later in the evening, from 4:30 to 5:30. It would be better to have the meetings at 6:00 or later, but it is better than it used to be.

But it is not only the county commissioners that have this problem. City government boards and commissions often hold their meetings in the middle of the work day. Here is a partial list of these meetings that are inaccessible to the general public:

   ♣ Utilities Service Board - 5:00 pm

   ♣ MPO Technical Advisory Committee - 1:30 pm

   ♣ MPO Policy Committee - 1:30 pm

   ♣ Housing Trust Fund Board of Directors - 3:30 pm

   ♣ Commission on the Status of Black Males - 4:15 pm

   ♣ Board of Park Commissioners - 4 pm

   ♣ Board of Housing Quality Appeals - 4 pm

   ♣ Historic Preservation Commission - 4 pm

The worst meeting time by far, though, is the county commissioners. Unlike the city's boards and commissions, the county commissioners have legislative authority, which is why their meetings need to be held in the most open way possible. Holding meetings when most people are unable to attend covers the business of the county commissioners in a cloud of darkness, something that should be unacceptable to elected officials who truly want to serve the public. There is no legitimate reason why they cannot meet on Thursday evenings. Payroll and claims are already done by that point, and it would make the meetings accessible to the general public.

We have two countywide races for Monroe County Commissioner this year. In one district, voters will decide between an incumbent and a challenger, while in the other district voters will decide the best choice for an open seat. All of those candidates should answer to the voters about whether they would be willing to change the commissioners' meeting time to be more accessible to the general public. The Herald-Times should aggressively pursue this matter, pressing those candidates for an answer.

Will the candidates commit to "change we can believe in" by embracing a more open and accessible meeting schedule? Will the H-T fulfill its responsibility to the public by aggressively seeking answers from those candidates? We are waiting for an answer to those questions.