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March 12, 2013 > Editorial: Time Out

Editorial: Time Out

Legislation at all levels of government can be confusing and open to a plethora of interpretations. Elected leaders and commentators are, at times, confronted with the task of trying to discuss and explain provisions of impending laws that are convoluted and even contradictory. In order to compensate for these flaws, many politicians have perfected the art of obfuscation; embellishing one or two relevant facts with excessive and redundant verbiage or hiding ignorance within a flurry of rhetoric. Interested citizens are then required to spend an inordinate amount of time wading through an avalanche of words to discover if there is any substance within.

Efficient meetings, especially those exploring controversial topics, should be organized to clearly define the subject and establish logical and persuasive arguments, paving the way toward an informed and rational decision. To do this in a coherent and competent manner, concise presentations are necessary. Prepared individuals and groups understand that when substance prevails, there is no time for rhetoric and filibuster tactics. If many citizens understand that quantity is no equivalent to quality in their presentations to Councils, why is it so hard for some councilmembers to reciprocate?

The concept of "time out" is elementary among parents with unruly or disrespectful behavior of their children. A period of quiet reflection can release tension and rein in extraneous and distracting stimuli, allowing reasonable discussion. Sometimes, all that is needed to proceed with a decision is a bit of time for reflection and appreciation of all arguments presented. When decision-makers are forced to organize their thoughts without endless repetition and rhetoric, choices become clearer and positions are defined. Just as the public is limited to a fixed time for their presentations, it may also be instructive for councilmembers to be asked to use their time in the same manner.

An interesting concept for councilmembers inclined toward excessive oratory would be to limit their comments for a set time period, maybe 15 minutes. Instead of trading unnecessary, prepared commentary and/or asking irrelevant and duplicative questions of Staff, comment from councilmembers with something to add to the discussion would be welcome while grandstanding and flowery language designed to gain air time and not much else, would not. A timer would prevail unless the Mayor and council decided that more time was not only relevant, but necessary for complete disclosure. In this way, the public could easily understand the primary points of discussion without time-wasting antics.

Council meetings could include time elements for each issue. These would be flexible, allowing sufficient public comment and discussion but would create a structural guide for the meeting. Those attending, including councilmembers, would understand, in advance, what was expected to be accomplished and the time allotted. Although imposing such limits on councilmembers might be painful to initiate, relieving the discomfort suffered by the public asked to listen to seemingly endless and meaningless commentary, would be worth it.

An easy way to test the need for such limits is to time councilmember statements and list any new ideas and concepts presented. A 20-minute oration to simply agree with what has been previously said, make inane comments or put forward a single simple statement is unacceptable. Some councilmembers already understand this basic principle and should be applauded for their clarity and brevity; others need a time out.

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