The pre-meeting and the pre-pre-meeting


I kept hearing about something called a "pre-meeting". Every week before the Tulsa City Council's televised 6 p.m. regular meeting, they hold a 5 p.m. pre-meeting in the Council library, an area not generally open to the public. The purpose is to go over the agenda, and the chairman indicates which routine items he plans to combine, and which items will be pulled -- maybe because the relevant councilor, official, or citizen can't be at the meeting.

You will not see any mention of the pre-meeting on the Council website (feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but I couldn't find it). Because a quorum of the Council is present they must post an agenda publicly, which they do post at City Hall, but they don't post it on the website. It's clear that they don't expect members of the public to be in attendance.

Many legislative bodies handle this kind of business at the beginning of the regular meeting. A proposed agenda is presented to the body, amendments may be proposed, and the agenda is approved. There's no reason this couldn't be handled in a few minutes at the beginning of the televised regular meeting.

So why have a pre-meeting? And why schedule it a full hour before the regular meeting? I'm told that many of these pre-meetings are quite long, sometimes barely leaving time for councilors to get over to the chamber for the start of the regular meeting. What are they talking about all that time? Are they going beyond technical agenda issues and delving into the substance of issues? These meetings are not recorded and are not publicized.

I decided to find out. With a contentious issue on the agenda, it could be an interesting pre-meeting. So I went down to the City Council offices with a few friends and a digital video camera.

I mistakenly expected the pre-meeting to be in the Council committee room, and when I walked in at 4:45, I apparently stumbled across the pre-pre-meeting -- a little discussion between Councilors Roop, Justis, Sullivan, and Christiansen. The conversation dried up instantly and the meeting adjourned, so I'd bet they were discussing the Council Consensus on the zoning protest process, the issue that brought me down to City Hall. It is legal for less than a quorum of Councilors to gather privately, under the state's Open Meeting law, but it certainly would be better for public accountability to have those sorts of discussions in the open.

Fast forward to a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. Jim Mautino and I walked in to the Council library. Most of the Council was sitting around the small table. There were no side chairs for onlookers, so I sat/leaned on a ledge and put the camcorder to my eye. Chairman David Patrick looked at me and asked if I have written permission to film. I said I didn't think I needed permission. This is an open meeting, isn't it? He acknowledged that it was. (Was that a weak attempt at a bluff?) Art Justis made a crack about getting royalties from any sales.

The whole pre-meeting lasted 8 minutes. Certain routine items were grouped. There was a question from Randy Sullivan about the legal impact of canvassing the council primary election with the District 3 race before an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee. The east Tulsa concrete plant item was postponed for one more week -- Jim Mautino didn't have a problem with that, because there were some issues being worked out with city engineers regarding flood plains.

No fireworks at all. (Not yet, anyway -- you'll read about some in the next entry.) Maybe I should show up with my camcorder every week; it seems to encourage efficiency.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 5, 2004 12:30 AM.

Council to act on zoning protest process tonight was the previous entry in this blog.

His rage we can endure is the next entry in this blog.

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