In 2009, the governing body adopted a schedule calling for just one regular meeting and one agenda session per month, half the previous number. Council watchers including this writer complained that too many items were condensed into the new format, allowing less time for thoughtful consideration. In addition, the new format meant ordinances that needed to pass on two readings took two months instead of one.
New City Council President Annie McWilliams explained at Friday's reorganization meeting that the format is meant to allow council committees to do their work and be able to report back to the full body. She said a prior roster of seven committees, each with three council members, will be reduced to four. In the past, reports were spotty or nonexistent, but McWilliams said they will expected monthly in 2010.
But in public comment, Dr. Harold Yood and Dottie Gutenkauf, both close council observers, objected to the calendar and called for a return to two regular meetings a month.
At the agenda sessions in advance of the regular meetings, council members ask questions of the administration on what is presented for the governing body's approval and then decide which items will go up for a vote at the regular meeting. At any given meeting, the council may have to deal with up to three dozen resolutions and up to half a dozen ordinances.
The new schedule is expected to be posted on the city web site by next week. For January, it includes an agenda-fixing session at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave., followed by a regular meeting at 8 p.m. Jan. 19 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.
The 2010 calendar also includes four "town meetings," one in each ward. In 2009, the council held agenda sessions in each of the wards, but the town meetings are in addition to the regular schedule. They are set for March 18 (Ward 1), March 25 (Ward 2), April 1 (Ward 3) and April 22, (Ward 4), all with locations to be announced.
Although the 2009 council calendar also included four "working meetings" on specific topics, only one is listed for 2010. It will be May 20 and the topic will be social services. Council members last year said they want all social service operations, including Dudley House, Plainfield Action Services, the Bilingual Day Care Center and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program transferred to outside agencies. Dudley House, a program for men recovering from addictions, is expected to be taken over in 2010 by Lafayette-based Sunrise House, although it will remain in a city-owned faciity on Putnam Avenue.