If Oklahoma City residents have a beef they want to present at a City Council meeting, they have to do it during the day. But at least one candidate in this year’s elections would like to change that.
“It’s about accessibility and making the city work for people,” Hull said. “It can be difficult for people to get time off from work. It’s hard for people with regular jobs to be a part of it. Moving them to the evening hours would make that easier.”
Currently, the council holds its meetings at 8:30 a.m. every other Tuesday. Virtually all of the public meetings listed on the city’s website are held during daytime hours.
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Meeting during business hours appears to be in line with many other regional cities. Dallas holds its meetings on weekday mornings, as does Kansas City. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen also meets on weekday mornings.
Nationally, the NYC City Council meets on weekday afternoons. Los Angeles’ council convenes on weekday mornings.
But there are exceptions. Albuquerque holds its meetings at 5 p.m. on weekdays, and Houston alternates morning sessions with early afternoon meetings. Denver holds its meetings at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays.
The Tulsa City Council meets Wednesday at 5 p.m., but that follows a day of committee meetings beginning in the morning, and continuing into the afternoon. It’s a full day for those who sit on the council.
“The committee meetings are where we get input from the city staff on things like zoning and reports from committees that are advisory,” Tulsa District 8 Councilman Phil Lakin said. “Those meetings are where we get a lot of stuff done.”
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Tulsa moved its meetings from Thursdays to Wednesdays several years ago and later changed the time of its meetings from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m.
“We had council members who wanted to attend non-profit events that were often held on Thursdays, and when we moved to Wednesdays we had people who go to church. So the 5 p.m. was a compromise, and it’s worked out pretty well,” Lakin said.
Lakin said Tulsa’s council meetings have been held in the evening hours for as long as he can remember. He said it gives residents opportunity to participate.
“I don’t think it’s something we would consider changing,” Lakin said of evening meetings. “That’s become part of our routine, and I think it works well.”
Holt: ‘I’m not opposed to trying it out’
Moving OKC City Council meetings to evening hours is not a new idea.
“It comes up from time to time, but there hasn’t been a great deal of interest or it probably would have happened by now,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said.
But Holt isn’t opposed to trying evening meetings.
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“I’m not opposed to trying it out,” Holt said. “A couple of meetings could be picked to experiment with it. I don’t think we’d all of the sudden move everything to the night time. We’d want to pick them strategically, like on a budget. Something that would be of broad interest.”
Holt said obstacle for moving meetings to evenings would be that most of the city’s administrative staff works regular business hours.
“Historically, they are held in the day because we have all of our senior staff there,” Holt said. “These are people who normally work 9 to 5.”
Long nights for nearby councils
Virtually all of Oklahoma City’s suburbs hold their meetings in evening hours. Edmond’s meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month. Midwest City’s meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.
Norman’s council meets on the same schedule. Ward 6 councilwoman Breea Clark said there’s been some discussion of moving Norman meetings to daytime hours, something she would like to avoid.
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“I wouldn’t support moving both of them to the day,” Clark said. “We could have one meeting during the day and the other in the evening hours.”
Holding meetings in the day would hurt those who have to take time off work to participate, Clark said. But holding meetings in the evening would exclude people who work nights, so she said it is hard to please everyone.
“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it,” Clark said. “As a local government we should be interested in trying new things. I believe we are the most important level of government for our citizens. The decisions we make affect our residents far quicker than state and federal decisions, and traditionally we seem to get the least involvement.”
There are drawbacks to night meetings. Clark recently participated in a storm water management meeting that dragged on until 2:45 a.m.
“That’s one of the challenges we face,” Clark said.
Council members interviewed for this piece emphasized that some agendas attract more interest than others. For Oklahoma City residents who want to see how the sausage is made, OKC City Council meetings air live on Cox channel 20 and on the city’s YouTube channel.
Still, those who want to address the OKC council usually have to do so in person and in the daytime hours. That’s not likely to change anytime soon. But, a new council could decide otherwise. Half of the eight wards will be up for grabs in the Feb. 12 election.
“If that’s something the new council wants to take up, I’d be open to it,” Holt said. “I’m sort of agnostic about it. I think it would take someone who is passionate about it, maybe experimenting with it, to get something done.”