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City council passes ordinance limiting meeting length

A close shot of Bloomington City Hall.

(Ethan Burks, WFIU/WTIU News)

The Bloomington City Council passed an ordinance Wednesday night limiting the length of its meetings to five and a half hours.

If a meeting exceeds five and a half hours or midnight, whichever comes first, it will immediately end if a council member’s motion to adjourn is seconded. No debate or majority vote is necessary.

Council member Steve Volan authored the legislation after two nights of departmental budget hearings in August exceeded five and half hours. He said council meetings have gone past this mark 13 times since 2015.

"We should not be going into the wee small hours of the night for any reason,” Volan said. “It’s always better to divide up the work to another night.”

Volan said the ordinance intends to prevent another nine-hour meeting like March 3, when the council debated protecting homeless encampments.

READ MORE: Ordinance Protecting Bloomington Homeless Encampments Fails

However, council president Jim Sims does not think the legislation is needed or necessary. He said it takes away from the council’s nine-member authority to adjourn.

“I don’t see that it does anything that the council can do without this legislation,” Sims said. “We have different tools in order to end meetings.”

Sims said any member can move to adjourn at any time. However, a majority of council members present must be in favor.

Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith said a majority vote would not have worked during the March 6 meeting. 

“Since the council was split 4-4 on the ordinance at hand and the issue of ending or continuing, I actually don’t see how the meeting could been have ended sooner." she said. 

The council passed ordinance 21-34 by a 7-2 vote. Council members Susan Sandberg and Sims voted ‘no.’

Adjournment vs. Recess

Adjournment is an end to the proceedings at hand. The items being discussed may be taken up at a future meeting. 

Recess is a pause on the current proceeding until a specific date and time. The meeting will continue exactly where it left off. 

Under the new ordinance, a motion to recess still requires a majority vote, but the meeting cannot resume until at least 24 hours past the original call to order. Volan said this prevents a meeting from being recessed to the following morning at 9 a.m.

“They should be at their normal times that we typically meet and deliberate,” he said.

Volan said councilmembers should consider making a motion to recess prior to the five and a half hour mark, otherwise two members will be able to adjourn the meeting. 

Council Meeting Time History

Volan sent a memo to the entire council on Aug. 27 in which he explained his rationale for the legislation. Included were two old pieces of legislation on the council’s meeting time. 

In 1979, the council passed an ordinance to schedule the meetings during television prime time hours. They began at 7:30 p.m. and a supermajority vote was needed to introduce new legislation after 10:30 p.m.

In 2016, the council passed an ordinance to push its meeting start time to 6:30 p.m. This vote was taken at 1:24 a.m.

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