Palo Alto's elected officials disagree on many issues, but they are united in their belief that they need to talk less and make City Council meetings more efficient.
After two lengthy discussions about this topic, a City Council committee will consider specific proposals to further that end at a meeting tonight.
The list of ideas to promote efficiency is long and varied, having been the subject of two discussions during the council's annual retreat on Jan. 31 and a special meeting several weeks after that.
Proposals include setting a hard-stop time of 11 p.m. for council meetings, limiting the amount of time council members get to ask questions during the meeting, and giving the mayor of committee chair more discretion to limit the time of council comments. All of these ideas came from Vice Mayor Greg Schmid and will be discussed by the Policy and Services Committee tonight.
Councilman Cory Wolbach proposed a few other ideas. One would equip the Council Chambers with two digital timers, with the first timer starting when an agenda item begins and the second starting when a particular council member begins to speak.
According to a report from the office of City Manager James Keene, the timers would be applied to council members, staff and the public "whether or not there is a time limit to their comments."
"This would serve as a subtle, constant and public reminder to be concise," the report states.
Wolbach also proposed a more dramatic and controversial idea: Scheduling council meetings on the first and third Mondays of each month, and saving the second and fourth Mondays for the "overflow" of unfinished business.
Currently, the council holds regular meetings on the first three Mondays of the month. It also frequently schedules a "special meeting" on the fourth Monday if needed.
The proposal met some resistance at the January retreat, with Councilman Pat Burt suggesting that the council is unlikely to get through its workload with only two regular meetings each month.
"This notion that somehow by only scheduling two regular council meetings a month, suddenly our workload will be cut in half, is at best very wishful thinking," Burt said.
Wolbach said he doesn't believe the change would necessarily create fewer meetings, but it would make time management easier.
"There would be more clarity about what would be on (the agenda) in the second and fourth weeks," Wolbach said at the retreat.
The new staff report also notes that designating two Mondays for "overflow" items will create an incentive for council members to be efficient "to avoid extra meetings."
Some ideas are fairly mundane and specific: making it clear to the public early in the meeting if the item they came for is unlikely to be heard that night; delivering council motions to the City Clerk through digital means (rather than reciting them orally and editing them in real time); and committing to hearing the public comments within the time frame listed on the agenda for their item.
Others are squishier and more ambitious. Councilman Tom DuBois said the council should challenge itself to keeping meetings to three hours (they currently stretch to five or six hours). He proposed designating 15 percent of the allocated time to staff reports, encouraging the public to make only "new points" (and poll the audience on points that have already been made); and creating a "chess clock" style of managing the council.
His proposal also includes trying to change the culture "so that everyone doesn't feel the need to speak on every item."
The Policy and Service Committee will discuss the various suggestions at 7 p.m. in the Community Meeting Room at City Hall, at 250 Hamilton Ave.