The City Council in Springfield, Massachusetts will be on the clock during meetings this year.
A new rule approved by the City Council will prohibit meetings from going past 10 p.m. unless there is unanimous consent by the councilors to do so.
Adopted Monday night by an 8-5 vote, the rule change was proposed by six-term City Councilor Mike Fenton.
"The purpose of the rule is to recognize that everybody has different circumstances and when we are working past that hour it creates uneven burdens on members of the council based on their lifestyle as well as members of the public who want to watch what we are doing," said Fenton.
Other rule changes approved by the Council at the first regular meeting of the year will limit how many times and for how long councilors can speak on an agenda item up for a vote.
"The fact we need to be proposing rules that limit the extent of someone's speech speaks to the fact we have gotten away from a more disciplined approach in terms of how oftern we are speaking and for how long during each presentation and Zoom has played a major role in that," Fenton said in an interview.
He said the remote meeting technology had contributed to lengthening meetings because councilors "are in more comfortable surroundings than the Council Chamber" and can more easily multitask during meetings.
For most of 2020, the City Council met remotely. With community spread of the coronavirus remaining very high in Springfield, there are no current plans for a return to in person meetings in City Hall.
The Council could be under even greater time constraints this year because by an 8-5 vote councilors gave preliminary approval to moving the start time for meetings to 7 p.m. – one half-hour later than the current meeting start time.
The change in the start time for meetings was proposed by City Council President Marcus Williams, who said it will be a help to councilors – like himself – who have fulltime day jobs.
He pointed out that all members are encouraged to attend the public speak-out that begins one half-hour before the scheduled start of Council meetings, which is currently 6:30 p.m.
"Which means if you are coming from a job at 5 p.m., you literally have 40-45 minutes, if that, to get prepared for a City Council meeting," said Williams.
City Councilor Victor Davila objected to putting time constraints on the work of the Council.
" You know democracy takes time," said Davila.
Councilors spent about two hours debating and voting on the proposed rules changes while otherwise making quick work of an 11 item-agenda consisting of mostly routine authorizations to spend grants awarded to the city.