Our View: Meeting move is right choice
After four weeks of standing-room-only meetings in a stuffy conference room, the Rochester City Council is ready to make a move.
The council will hold its next committee of the whole meeting — 3:30 p.m. Monday — in the chambers it shares with the Olmsted County Board. Instead of taking seats at the dais, however, council members and key city staffers will surround a table as onlookers sit on the outskirts.
The move makes more seats available — 104 as opposed to 40 — for those wanting to witness the proceedings. The number of watchers has been growing in recent weeks as the council has tackled a variety of attention-grabbing issues, including the fate of the Armory building and a proposed heritage preservation ordinance.
The move is something we suggested in April, and we're glad to see it's being made, even if the council considers it a trial.
We do understand the desire to have a more casual space for the informal meetings with staff, but the need for transparency must trump the meeting's mood. Often, more back-and-forth discussion occurs during the committee of the whole meetings than at regular council meetings, meaning residents who want to see what's behind key council decisions need access to the informal meetings.
That's why we hope the council takes the move a step further and follows the suggestion of City Clerk Aaron Reeves, who noted the new digs would offer the option and live stream the meetings, meaning those who cannot attend the Monday afternoon meetings would still have timely access to information shared.
Streaming the meetings would also address a concern raised by Public Works Director Richard Freese, who pointed out audience members sometimes struggle to hear the conversations in the planned new location. Making a video record of meetings will require microphones, meaning all voices at the table should be easy to hear.
If other concerns or challenges arise, we encourage the council to continue on its path toward improved transparency by looking for solutions rather than slipping back to an old, comfortable practice.