Charlottesville City Council will hold a public hearing Monday on proposed changes to the way meetings are conducted.
Councilors spent much of its recent annual retreat discussing alterations to the meeting schedule to include more participation and to allow more interaction between Council and the public. Council last made major changes to its meeting procedures in Feb. 2016 when an effort was made to make meetings more formal.
After several hours of conversation, Council settled on starting regular meetings at 6:30 p.m. with a period that will now be known as "community matters."
"This is a transformation of ‘matters from the public’ that used to happen at this point,” said Allison Linney, a facilitator hired to run part of the two-day retreat at Morven Farms. “You'll notice it's much longer and involves taking feedback from the community."
As many as 16 people will be able to speak during the “community matters” period. Eight could sign up in advance through a random selection process and another eight could sign up at the meeting. Mayor Nikuyah Walker will be tasked with keeping the meeting on time.
After that period, regular business would begin and would consist of the consent agenda, public hearings, action items and discussion items.
“The reading of awards and announcements will be eliminated, not forever, but our effort will get right into business,” Linney said.
Announcements will be shown on the television screen on TV Cable Channel 10 and projected in the City Council chambers. Awards will be read in Chambers on a quarterly basis.
The final public comment period will continue to be known as “matters from the public.”
Council also agreed to evaluate the new rules in the coming months. They also agreed to use a less formal version of Robert’s Rules of Order.
“Discussion and debate of matters before the Council for action shall be undertaken in an informal and conversational matter, as much as possible,” read the proposed new rules.
Council will also hold “town hall” meetings in neighborhoods throughout the community. These are “a type of meeting at which Councilors answers questions from the public.” The last “Our Town” meeting was held in January 2017.
Councilors also discussed holding public hearings on land use applications separately from the Planning Commission but made no decision to change the procedure at this time.
Closed sessions will now begin at 5:30 p.m. This Monday, Council will get an update on “the possible exchange, transfer, reservation, and/or property lease/use agreement between the City and County of Albemarle, involving real estate known as the 7th and Market Street parking lot, the Jessup House, the Levy Opera House and the County Office Building site."
Albemarle County has been exploring the possibility of moving the Circuit Court out of downtown Charlottesville but recently paused in order to give city officials the chance to negotiate.
At the retreat, Councilors had the chance to state how they would like to see meetings improve.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he wants the city to do a better job of using social media during meetings to let the public know what is happening at meetings. For instance, each vote could be announced.
“I think it would behoove us to do recap videos like they do in other places,” Bellamy said, adding that may require an increased budget to hire dedicated staff.
Staff will further investigate the costs of closed captioning the live stream and providing sign language translations for the hearing impaired. They will also investigate the costs of televising Council meetings that happen outside of City Council chambers.
“I want to know how much it would cost for us to take the show on the road and still be able to provide it on Channel 10,” said City Councilor Heather Hill.
Council also discussed the future of where meetings should take place and may consider a new location in the future.
“Many people feel with the increased attention that our space is claustrophobic and old-fashioned,” said City Councilor Mike Signer. “It does feel like you are forced to look up at the Councilors.”
Signer said creating a new space elsewhere in the community would be expensive. Another option would be to lower or remove the dais.
A class at the University of Virginia School of Architecture is currently studying possible options to redesign Council chambers.
City Manager Maurice Jones cautioned that the city has over two hundred million dollars of unfunded capital improvement requests.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin suggested one possibility could be to build a new Chambers as part of the consolidated General District Court at Court Square if that possibility actually occurs.
“The new court building will have an extra court set that won’t be needed for a long time and that court room could become potentially a new place for Council to meet,” Galvin said.