Last week, I asked a whole bunch of nosy questions about how agendas for city council meetings are set by the City of Richardson. Bill McCalpin of Rumorcheck.org did his best to answer my questions. He doesn't work for the city; he isn't involved in setting agendas himself; he does have years of experience observing what happens around city hall. I can't say for sure he's right or wrong (if I could, I wouldn't have needed to ask my questions in the first place). But his answers sound plausible.
After the jump, my own understanding of how the process probably works.
McCalpin says there is "a large calendar that the city manager's office maintains on items that must be discussed and/or decided on throughout the course of the year." I can imagine a large, wall-sized paper calendar filled with Post-it Notes. But we're in the 21st century now, so I hope that calendar has moved to an electronic version, accessible to the city manager's office, all city staff and council members. Legally, it's probably accessible to the public, too, through an Open Records Act request. But why make the public ask? Why isn't this working calendar online? Sure, it's a working calendar, subject to change. But by making it accessible to the public, the public can make informed suggestions for changes, as it should be.
McCalpin says that this calendar generates most of the items on the weekly meeting agendas. Other items come up as a result of filings by the public, such as zoning change requests. Still other items are added as a result of the city council's own yearly exercise of identifying a list of near-term action items. Finally, McCalpin suggests that if an individual council member feels strongly about an issue, even if he's all by himself, his wish to add this to the agenda is accommodated by the city manager's office, even if the idea is eventually rejected by the full council. All of these items ought to be included in that "large calendar" that should then be made available online to the public.
McCalpin suggests that the Mayor has final approval of the agenda. This might seem natural, but if it's done this way in Richardson, it's only an informal practice. The mayor is just one of seven members of the city council. If the other six defer to the mayor in this regard, it's done out of trust, confidence, respect. It's not a power delegated to the mayor by the city charter.
I can imagine another system where the city staff draws up a proposed agenda for the next meeting and presents it at the end of each council meeting. The council as a whole would then review, revise and approve the next agenda. Besides involving the whole council in setting the council's own agenda, this has the side benefit of giving the public a full week's notice of the next agenda, not the minimum 72 hours required by state law. I'm full of good ideas for continuous improvement. ;-)
So far, so good. It's all a very friendly system. The council is (mostly) of like mind. They have confidence in the city manager and city staff. The other six council members have confidence in the mayor. As long as the annual calendar and weekly meeting agendas cover the goals of the council, the council has little need to get involved in drawing up each week's agenda. As far as McCalpin knows, none of this process is written down. That's probably fine, as long as the camaraderie persists. But if the council ever loses confidence in the city manager, or two or three council members lose confidence in the mayor (and certainly if a majority of four do) then the current comfortable system will be strained.
On the other hand, with the city council members all being elected at large, with the mayor being chosen by the council itself, and with the city manager being hired (and fired) by the council, Richardson city government is designed to avoid divisions and conflicts. Which is probably why the current comfortable system has worked as well as it has for as long as it has.
Thanks, Bill, for your expansive answers to my questions.