Keeping their cool

City Council meetings that last past midnight can cause anyone to lose his cool, even Sacramento’s mellow mayor, Darrell Steinberg. As the SN&R’s Raheem F. Hosseini reported in our March 30 issue (see “Conditional humanity,” Beats), Steinberg became visibly irritated during the council’s March 21 meeting when several residents groused about the city’s ban on sleeping outdoors.

At issue was Councilman Allen Warren’s proposal to create a temporary safe ground for the homeless on city property in his district. Steinberg said he was willing to support the proposal, but only if people stopped bugging the council about the camping ban. “I’m not doing it. I’m not doing this every week. I’m not doing it,” he snapped.

Steinberg is a smart man, but that was a dumb thing to say. People have a right to address their elected leaders. Then again, who wouldn’t get snappish after sitting through an after-work meeting for six hours?

Worse than snappish: When people are deeply tired, they make mistakes. Besides, council meetings that last into the wee hours are anti-democratic. Residents who wish to address the council already are relegated to the butt end of the agenda and have to sit through the entire meeting before speaking. No wonder so few remained in chambers when the time came to discuss Warren’s proposal.

There’s a practical solution to this: Set a meeting time limit, say 10 o’clock. Need more time? Vote on whether to extend the meeting for 30 minutes. Need to go even longer? Vote again. It works in Chico, where I covered the City Council for many years. Meetings there almost never last past 11, and council members rarely lose their cool.