Although they will vote on a more formalized proposal at their next meeting, members of the Great Bend City Council Monday night gave tacit approval to the idea of holding semi-regular work study sessions. The idea would be to have a more informed council when it comes to voting on complex issues.
Following a council consensus, the sessions will likely take place after regular agenda meetings. They will only be held when needed and address matters coming up on the following regular meeting agenda.
“We had discussed in our strategic planning the idea of work study sessions to help gather us more information on some of the in-depth issues that come before us,” said Councilwoman Jolene Biggs, who initially championed the idea. “This would allow us to ask questions and have a clearer understanding before the council meetings.”
She cited working through the city’s information technology challenges and the Amber Meadows flooding as examples of when the sessions would have been helpful.
“We can try; afterwards, if it drags on too long, we can change it,” Biggs said. “We can adapt it.”
There may be one session per month. In addition to the governing body, staff will only be present if they were on the agenda.
“It would be more of an informal meeting,” said City Administrator Kendal Francis, who had worked with Biggs on the proposal. “I do think it would be beneficial.”
He visited with numerous other cities about how they handle study sessions, and the results were all over the board, he said. Some were weekly, some monthly, some before the regular meeting, some after it, and some on a different night. And, there was one that incorporated discussion items in the regular meeting agenda.
“We ask that you give some consideration to this,” Francis said. There are issues such as strategic and budget planning on the horizon for which additional discussion would be helpful for council members.
Francis advocated for having them for 45 minutes prior to the agenda meeting, forcing the council to be done in time for the 6:30 p.m. start.
Most on the council and Mayor Joe Andrasek thought the sessions would be a good idea. But, they were split over having it before or after the regular meeting.
Councilman Andrew Erb said he had attended a study session of the Hays City Commission. It worked well and he left supporting the concept.
“I believe it allows us to be a little more transparent,” Erb said. “And, we can hopefully keep things on track during meetings and get more work done.”
However, “I am not in favor of setting up special meetings,” Councilman Brock McPherson said. The public already knows about the agenda meetings and the study sessions would give the appearance of doing business in secret.
It was noted that the council gets the agenda packet a week prior to the meeting. They have time to look through it and call with questions if they have any.
The sessions would be public meetings since the governing body would be meeting as a group. But, council members were uncertain if they would allow public comments during them or if they would be broadcast as the regular meetings are.