Burning the midnight oil: Lake Elmo’s meetings continue running long, council rejects proposals to change

 

In 2015, the Lake Elmo city council has meet for an average of four hours per regular meeting twice a month for a total of 88 hours and 21 minutes this year. This average is twice that of the Stillwater city council and nearly eight times longer than the Oak Park Heights city council. (Graph by Alicia Lebens)
In 2015, the Lake Elmo city council has meet for an average of four hours per regular meeting twice a month for a total of 88 hours and 21 minutes this year. This average is twice that of the Stillwater city council and nearly eight times longer than the Oak Park Heights city council. (Graph by Alicia Lebens)

The Lake Elmo City Council has never been afraid of burning the midnight oil. With some recent council meetings that extended to 1 a.m., the average meeting length in 2015 has been four hours for a total of eight hours in council meetings per month. That figure doesn’t include additional workshops, commission or committee meetings throughout the month.

Faced with a noticeable increase of in-fighting among council members after 10 p.m., interim city administrator Clark Schroeder introduced a proposed ordinance Oct. 6 that would limit meetings to three hours. Despite their desire to leave city hall earlier, the council voted not to approve the ordinance, reasoning that it would add more fuel to their disagreements.

Longer than neighbors

Meetings of the Lake Elmo City Council average about four hours in length, and are significantly longer than neighboring Oak Park Heights or Stillwater. During the month of September, the Lake Elmo City Council met a total of 11 hours and 16 minutes in two regular council meetings, which is greater than the amount of time the Oak Park Heights City Council has meet in regular session during 2015 so far. With an average of about one hour, many of the Oak Park Heights City Council meetings in 2015 have been less than 30 minutes. While the Stillwater city council meeting schedule is slightly different than that of Lake Elmo or Oak Park Heights, it is rare for the council to meet beyond four hours in an entire month.

Finding a solution

The proposed ordinance presented by Schroeder Oct. 6 would have required the city council to end its meetings at 10 p.m., only extending the meeting another 15 minutes with approval from a supermajority of four council members. In 2015, a total of 13 meetings would have hit the 10 p.m. time limit.

“Due to meetings running five to six hours in length, it is the recommendation from the administrator that an ordinance be adopted that would limit how long meetings can run,” Schroeder said.

If there were any agenda items left to discuss when the clock strikes 10 p.m., they would be tabled until a future meeting.

“I had first raised the flag on this issue when I started back in August,” Schroeder said.

At that time, Schroeder said he had sent correspondence to other city administrators seeking advice for handling council meetings that tend to run very long.

“There were two trains of thought — one is that the city council spends 45 minutes setting the agenda … and the other is that it forces councils to meet every week,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder suggested the council could receive some of the lengthy presentations during council workgroups, and then come back to vote on the issues during a meeting.

“I appreciate the sentiment behind this, but I don’t see it as functional for us,” Councilmember Julie Fliflet said. “It will open up another area where we will argue about placements on agendas, and I am not willing to add another item to the list of things that we disagree on.”

“I agree with ending at 10 p.m.,” Councilmember Jill Lundgren said. “Discussing finances at midnight is not good for the city.”

“I think we need a change, and I think — from a minority standpoint — if things want to get tabled, they get tabled already so I don’t expect my lot to get improved here,” Mayor Mike Pearson said.

“We’ve got to look to ourselves. We are responsible,” Councilmember Justin Bloyer said. “We are at least astute enough to see what our downfalls are.”

Schroeder said the long discussions are a symptom of the growth taking place, and that the city could try to have shorter meetings that occur every week.

“I don’t want to meet every week,” Councilmember Anne Smith said. “Frankly, I have a family. I don’t want to meet every week.”

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]