VINELAND — City Council has again moved up its meeting times, something local officials contend will make it easier still for residents to attend the sessions.
The governing body now begins its workshop meetings at 5:30 p.m. and its regular meetings at 6 p.m.
This is the second time City Council initiated earlier meeting times since the new administration took office in January. Council that month moved the times of its workshop meetings from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. and its regular meetings from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
City Council President Anthony Fanucci said the changes will make it more convenient to attend the panel’s meetings and prevent those meetings from running late into the night. Residents can attend the meetings and still have time to do other things afterward, he said.
The move is better for the city government staff, members of which no longer have to leave work and then return later, he said. That can also reduce possible compensatory time and overtime for certain city workers who have to return to City Hall, he said.
That also helps keep city officials fresh for the meeting, Fanucci said.
New Jersey State League of Municipalities Executive Director Bill Dressel said there is no consensus among local governments about the best time to hold meetings.
“They’re trying to gauge a time that is convenient for the public,” he said. “They’re trying to find a time to accommodate folks and find a time to get as much (public participation) as possible. It’s purely discretionary.”
While league officials said most local governing bodies hold their meetings at night, there are some that start relatively early.
For instance, Sea Isle City Council meets at 10 a.m.
As in Vineland, Sea Isle City Council President Bill Kehner said holding the early meetings allows for municipal officials such as the clerk and police to more easily attend the sessions and deal with questions and concerns from residents.
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City Council used to hold its meetings later in the day, he said. The change to a morning session had little impact on meeting attendance, he said.
“You see the same faces,” Kehner said of those who attend the meetings.
One thing Sea Isle City is doing this year is holding a meeting at 9 a.m. during Community Day on May 18, a Saturday. Kehner said that will allow people who use the city as their secondary residence, and who cannot attend the regular midweek meetings, to ask questions of local officials.
Vineland City Council in February also considered reducing the 15-minute time limit set for public comments to five minutes. City Council members said that might give more people a chance to speak and prevent lengthy meetings.
City Council took no action on that proposal.
As with setting meeting times, elected officials have the discretion to set reasonable time limits for people to address local governing bodies, Dressel said. What is important is to set some kind of time limit, he said.
“I’ve seen times where you have two or three people and you give them a little more leniency,” Dressel said. “If you have 200 people show up, you’ve got that standard there you can apply.”
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