Flagstaff City Council meetings and work sessions will continue to convene at 3 p.m., after the earlier start time was implemented during the pandemic to provide flexibility.
As the current Council gathered in front of an in-person audience for the first time Tuesday night since COVID-19 forced changes in March of 2020, a discussion took place to determine whether it would also return to its former start time later in the evening.
Concerns had been raised by some members of the community that the early afternoon start time caused the meetings to be difficult for the public to attend, particularly for residents who work during the day. Prior to the pandemic, agenda items of higher public interest were typically scheduled to be discussed later in the evening.
Going strictly by the city council rules of procedure, Council is supposed to convene at 3 p.m. for routine agenda items and reconvene at 5 p.m. for regular agenda items. Protocol sets Council work sessions to convene at 6 p.m.
But that portion of Council protocol, section 5.01 in the rules of procedure, has been suspended since April of 2020 when Council decided the time constraints for both regular meetings and work sessions were counterproductive while transitioning to remote meetings.
“This gave us a little more flexibility in the conduct of our meetings to really allow us time to transition into the virtual setting, understanding that our meetings may have needed to be a little longer,” deputy city manager Shannon Anderson said.
Since then, remote meetings have almost become the norm -- so much so that the city decided to implement remote accessibility into the council chambers, allowing participants to attend both in person or remotely through a video call.
With the new remote capability and the city council shifting back to in-person meetings, Anderson asked the council whether it was time to end the suspension of the protocol. After a brief discussion, the council opted to take a wait-and-see approach, leaving the suspension in place.
Councilmember Regina Salas suggested that starting work sessions and regular Council meetings at the same time provided the public with more consistency week-to-week.
“I think we're actually allowing for more public engagement by starting at 3 p.m. and rolling right into our second session. And that's kind of where I would like things to be,” Councilmember Austin Aslan said.
But not everyone was as enthusiastic. Councilmembers JimMcCarthy and Adam Shimoni, though agreeing with the rest of Council to postpone a decision, still had concerns regarding the public’s accessibility.
McCarthy had suggested earlier that city council should start work sessions at 5 p.m. to allow the public a better opportunity to submit comments. Work sessions, unlike regular meetings, do not have routine items appearing on the agenda first to naturally push higher-interest issues later into the evening.
“My only concern is that we might be making it more difficult for the public to get here -- which was the reason we initially considered 5 p.m. But we can try 3 p.m. and see how it works,” McCarthy said.
Council considered amending the rules of procedure to formally set the start time at 3 p.m., but decided to wait and see how meetings played out with the new format. Aslan said if the earlier time proves to be problematic, the council could always choose to address the issue at a later time.
Mayor Paul Deasy asked staff to check back in two months, allowing Council time to gather additional public feedback on the schedule. When the issue is addressed again, Council is likely to re-implement the rules of procedure with or without an amendment to the start time.