Local
9:19 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Rules Aim to Shorten City Council Meetings

Perhaps Pittsburgh City Council meetings won't be quite so lengthy in the future.

New rules proposed for Council would limit members' comments to five minutes per speech during committee meetings, and also limit the number of proclamations one could carry out in a Council session.

The limits would not apply to post agenda meetings.

Sponsoring Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak said that her bills are aimed at making Council become "more focused and more professional," noting that time limits are in place for many other City Councils across the country.

"We argue back and forth for hours on end, even when we've all already made up our minds on how we're going to vote, and we go 'round and 'round in debate that ultimately doesn't matter," said Rudiak. "Very often, when we do that, our comments become repetitive, divisive, and acrimonious, robbing the debate of any real public value."

But the Councilwoman's efforts at reform met resistance from some Council Members, including Councilman Ricky Burgess.

"This is an attempt to silence the minority, so that the majority can just have a straighter hold on the debate, silence debates, stifle opposition, and force their way through a Council," said Burgess.

Other Council Members were more reserved with their criticisms. Councilwoman Theresa Smith said that she's concerned that a Council majority could override other members' wishes for post agenda meetings, which would become the primary forum for long Council debates under the bill.

"My concern would be, how are we going to ensure that we are having those post agendas, so those discussions are able to take place for issues that are really important to the city?" asked Smith. "Even if it's just something a few members have concern with, five votes should not be the thing that stops [it], because there's always some divisiveness around some of these issues that we ask for post agendas."

During committee meetings, comments from Council Members would be limited to five minutes apiece in both the first and second rounds of debate, with the opportunity for a two-minute speech in the final round of discussion.

A second bill would limit a Council Member to four honorary proclamations per Council meeting as a way to save time.

The proclamation-related bill was given tentative approval on Wednesday, while the time-limiting bill was held for one week.