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Council shifts start time of executive sessions

Jun 27, 2012 - By Emily Etheredge, Staff Writer

Riverton city staff members hope the change will shorten the meetings and keep the discussions on track.

Council members voted June 19 to begin holding executive sessions at the start of Riverton City Council meetings.

Previously, executive sessions were immediately after council meetings concluded.

Councilman Eric Heiser approached the council at the May 1 meeting with a suggestion to move the executive sessions to the beginning of the evening starting at 6:15 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., depending on the issue.

In a memo to council members, Heiser said the reason for the change was to shorten the meeting length and be more mindful of how late city staff was being kept at city hall during the executive session meetings.

"On those nights when we have an executive session we are often in session until 10 p.m. or later," Heiser said. "In my opinion, this is too late and not fair to staff or their families."

City administrator Steven Weaver said city staff had a discussion about the pros and cons of changing the time. Some of the pros included shortening the length of meetings, making sure conversations stayed focused and productive, and any decisions made during the executive session could be brought up to the public at the beginning of the council meeting.

The cons included putting time constraints on the executive session and feeling rushed to make a decision, making a permanent change for something that may not happen that often, and not being able to start the City Council meeting at 7 p.m. as required by ordinance.

"I think we need to do whatever is best for the citizens, council and staff," Weaver said. "I don't want to cause a whole bunch of confusion to the public where they felt we were having meetings when we weren't supposed to. Either way city staff is going to be here so it is really up to the council to decide what would be best."

Mayor Ron Warpness asked how often meetings go past 10 p.m.

"We have few executive sessions now thanks to Weaver," Warpness said. "My concern is moving the time might cause unnecessary confusion to the public. If we have an executive session where we don't allow the public in prior to the meeting and don't have a pre-meeting that would not be a good thing."

Warpness said he sometimes has the impression the public is not aware they can attend the pre-meetings and would like to continue having them.

Heiser said it was not his intent to cancel the 6:45 p.m. pre-meeting.

"I think things get to a point in the evening where a lot of us become less motivated or lose our focus as we continue to hammer away at things," Heiser said. "That is not productive. I don't have a vested interest one way or another, it was simply a suggestion."

Councilwoman Diana Mahoney said that if the council needs to have a special meeting, notifications could be sent out before the meeting.

"We could try meeting in executive session at 6:15 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. for six months and see how everything went," Mahoney said.

Councilman Lars Baker said special meetings would allow council to meet in executive session before the regular council meeting and also allow the pre-meeting at 6:45 p.m. to continue.

"We wouldn't need to change any rules by advertising at a different time because it would be a special meeting," Baker said.

Baker made a motion and the council approved special meetings to be called for executive sessions before the 6:45 p.m. pre-meetings. Council meetings will still meet at 7 p.m.

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Riverton City Council