2017-11-30 / Opinion


Slow Down Meetings, Speed Up Progress

Most city/town clerks take minutes at government meetings. Lately, Newport City Council meetings have gone by so fast that the clerk only has to take seconds.

• On Aug. 23, the biweekly government forum, the session dedicated to showing its residents how and why it governs, lasted 7 minutes.

• On Sept. 22, the meeting lasted a mere 16 minutes, with only one action item on the docket.

• On Oct. 11, the meeting lasted 17 minutes with three action items, including the awarding of a city contract and the relocation of a utility pole.

• On Oct. 25, the meeting lasted just 14 minutes. There were no action items.

• On Nov. 8, the meeting was a comparative marathon, 20 minutes, but only because several individuals stood up to complain about the years they have had to wait to get a mooring slip for their boat in local waters.

Since running our Oct. 26 editorial “Keeping Our Eye on the Ball,” we have received many questions and comments about how our local cities and towns are governed.

The stark difference in how two island communities govern struck us profoundly when we attended a recent Middletown council meeting on Nov. 20 and it lasted an hour and 40 minutes, with at least three dozen in attendance.

In Newport, they consent as if they’re double parked. Granted, they do hold a 20-30 minute pre-council meeting to review the agenda, which is open to the public, and this may be one reason the official meetings themselves move at lightning speed.

At other times, meetings conclude quickly as there is little discussion in response to audience members who addresses the council.

No one is advocating time-wasting or inefficient government. And who can say what the right amount of time is for a meeting? After all, the agenda determines that. But there is a perception lately around the City of Newport that not enough city business is being discussed or reviewed during council meetings, and that resolutions or initiatives are not being presented or issues being raised, especially by the individual counselors themselves.

Recent workshops have been held on the cell tower renewal and the potential Sailing Hall of Fame’s move to Newport and possibly to the Armory Antique building. These workshops were well-attended by residents, yet not all of the elected councilors were present to hear their constituencies’ concerns.

Several months ago, first-year Middletown Town Councilman Dennis Turano introduced a sensible suggestion: regular updates on major town projects that hadn’t been discussed for many months.

At the Oct. 16 council meeting in Middletown, three updates were given on the progress of various completed and ongoing road projects, timely school renovations, and updates on the imminent conversion of the former Drive-In property along Aquidneck Avenue, which will soon become much needed, long-awaited athletic fields.

The perception in Newport is that if meetings typically take only an average of 15 minutes, with very limited discussion, and virtually no weighing of pros and cons, then every meeting is a lost opportunity to educate, inform and even listen more.

We are thankful that Mayor Winthrop does not want to waste his or anyone else’s valuable time. And we know the city councilors care; why else would they have chosen to dedicate time to public service?

We wonder if the public would be more inclined to attend, if Newport considered picking up on Middletown’s practice of adding regular updates or workshops to the actual council meeting docket. Even adding the dates of upcoming meeting notices to the council agendas could help people feel more informed, and perhaps attendees would participate more fully.

All of the above are places to look for simple ways to “keep everyone’s eye on the ball.”

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