If you live in Columbia; work in Columbia; have a business in Columbia; shop in Columbia or, perhaps most importantly, pay property taxes in Columbia, you may miss out on important information if you do not attend the scheduled borough council meetings and the collection of other announced or unannounced meetings.
At the council meetings, you may miss the comments and body language of those elected and hired to serve Columbia’s citizens as they interact with ideas, issues, discussions and legislature that will impact the community’s shareholders today, tomorrow and for years to come. You may miss the finger-pointing, recollecting, politicizing, pontificating and reminiscing. You will miss the genuine interest that a few citizens voice when they ask questions and offer comments during the meetings.
And you will miss the derision, verbal attacks and obfuscation tactics that, from time to time, are directed towards the citizens who may ask for clarification or offer another viewpoint.
You will wonder why there are microphones in front of the elected “public servants” and they’re not used! You’ll wonder why there is apparent undecipherable “mumbling” … especially when so many of the concerned citizens who show up for these meetings are wearing hearing aids.
You may wonder … are these people are representing you?!
But if you do not attend the meeting, how will you find out what happened? How will you get a copy of the agenda?
“The agenda is a written plan of the order and content of a meeting, a prearranged outline for the conduct of business in the most efficient manner. Without the discipline of an agenda, meetings of governing bodies tend to become long, disorderly and fruitless, as well as offensive to the interested citizen.”
“However, if the agenda is a well-developed and detailed plan of business with supporting information, it should be distributed far enough in advance for the members to read and digest the information so they can come to the meeting prepared.”
“The time of distributing the agenda varies in practice from as much as five days before the meeting to as little as a few hours before, or even when the meeting opens.”
“Preparing the agenda three days before the meeting allows the municipality to provide a copy to the local news media in time for publication of stories anticipating business to be handled at the meeting. This is excellent for media relations and also provides a valuable service in keeping citizens informed of matters to be discussed at each upcoming meeting. This alerts them to actions in advance and can be effective in building goodwill, public confidence and understanding.”
(SOURCE: Manual for Municipal Secretaries, Pennsylvania Governor’s Center for Local Government Services)
You might think you can get the agenda or the minutes of the previous month’s meeting at the borough’s Website? But that would be to assume that the borough wants you to see the agenda? And it would take, oh, five or so minutes, to scan and post it there.
You may get the “bare bones” essence of these meeting in a few media sources after the meetings; Lancaster Newspapers’ correspondents have been doing an improved job summarizing some of the discussion topics. Though in too many cases, subjects who are quoted in articles claim to have been “mis-quoted” and fact-checking is suspect.
Until now, Columbia news, views & reviews has been in the practice of reproducing the meeting agendas. That practice will no longer happen.
Because Columbia news, views & reviews by design is a citizen-journalism local information resource, there are no paid journalists assigned to “cover” events and incidents. We rely on primary and secondary sources that we interpret as interesting or useful for readers of this online information source. From time to time, local contributors will submit photos, articles or opinions; these contributions are always welcomed. From time to time, citizens will call or email us to ask why an issue or topic was “missed” by media.
The issue of the changing Columbia streetscape on the first several blocks of Locust Street is one of those issues. At the January Council “meeting of the whole – part one” – the discussion of downtown lighting, tree planting and brick sidewalks was on the agenda, for instance. There was lively discussion about the decision to use bricks in the revamped sidewalks. Some people felt that bricks can become problematic as they shift or become dislodged. There was much discussion about how the decision to use brick rather than patterned concrete or plain cement sidewalks. When one councilor asked about the decision process, there was oral recollection, but no documentation was cited nor available for reference.
As the conversation continued, and trees and lighting were melded into the conversation, someone pointed to the “Street Tree Planting Plan” taped to the wall of the conference room. That plan is pictured here.
The absence of documentation surfaced in another discussion topic as one councilor was introducing a perspective parking program for the Borough. At one point during the councilor’s presentation, another councilor introduced a document heretofore unknown to the presenting councilor.
At another meeting (not a council meeting), the codes officer reproved the committee chairperson for not providing minutes notes “so they could be posted” in a timely manner. The codes officer stated that his boss has “the legal documents” that the minutes notes should be provided without a required quorum of members of the committee or commission.
Apparently, the legal documents are in place. Columbia Borough, indeed, has adopted an ordinance (Ordinance 806) that stipulates that the conduct of meetings, including documentation by keeping minutes, shall follow the procedures of Robert’s Rules of Order (Newly Revised). Though, there is no stipulation in Robert’s Rules of Order for the body (committee, commission, board) to entertain a motion, second and vote to accept minutes:
“If the minutes have been distributed to the members before the next meeting then the approval process can be very short. The presiding officer simply states ‘Are there any corrections to the minutes as printed?’ If there are none, or after all corrections have been made, the presiding officer may say ‘If there is no objection, the minutes will be approved as printed (or as corrected).'”
While Robert’s Rules of Order permits a motion to accept the minutes “as printed or corrected” there is no requirement for a second or a vote.
Similarly, the documentation of the conduct of meetings by adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order is matched by the organizations’ codes, ordinances, minutes, etc. There should never be a reliance on memory or recollection.
Save Columbia for current and future stakeholders!
Hold these elected “public servants” accountable!