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Conducting Effective Public Meetings

Contents

Introduction

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Meetings are the means by which a person or group can exercise choice and affect outcomes. Generally, there are two different types of meetings that a local government will focus on. These are decision or policy-making meetings and information sharing meetings (either to get public comments or brainstorming work sessions). The purpose of meetings is to hear from all concerned parties and ensure that all opinions are considered in the decision making process.

Under state law there are certain rules that a local government must follow for conducting meetings; however, aside from these rules there are standards that help to ensure that meetings are effective.

Some basic rules for ensuring an effective meeting:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it (do not add controversial issues to the agenda at the last minute);
  • Distribute materials ahead of time so participants can come to the meeting informed;
  • Condense information as much as possible so participants can get the information quickly;
  • Protect the rights of all parties to be heard by ensuring there is uninterrupted time to speak;
  • Ensure everyone understands their stake in the issue;
  • Use flip charts or a chalkboard to make notes on key ideas and confirm that the message being conveyed is clearly understood and to identify action items;
  • Prepare an official written record of the meeting.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Why does a governing body need a meeting procedure?

The practical reasons for having a meeting procedure in place is that it eliminates chaos and lessens the possibility that the decision making process will be unreliable (arbitrary and capricious).

There are also legal requirements that must be met in the meeting process that an established procedure helps to ensure. These are:

  • Hold regular meetings on an established schedule (usually monthly);
  • Establish a quorum and take aciton by majority vote;
  • Vote on every question unless disqualified;
  • Declare a conflict of interest if appropriate;
  • Maintain a journal of official proceedings;
  • Provide reasonable opportunity for the public to be heard;
  • Hear and evaluate public testimony.

Generally, the preferred practice is "Robert's Rules of Order" or "Parliamentary Procedure." These can sometimes be confusing because of the specialized language used to describe the process and the level of detail presented. Generally, small local governments can conduct business by incorporating only a limited part of these in their official procedure and incorporating the rest of the process by reference. We have included some of the most common terms and simplified sample guidelines for conducting a meeting, from making a motion to voting.

Generally, brainstorming and work sessions are less formal than a regular meeting or public hearing.

What are the minimum mandatory requirements of a local government for conducting meetings?

Under state law AS 29.20.160, a municipality must:

  • hold a regular monthly meeting, unless otherwise provided by ordinance;
  • provide reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard (AS 44.62.310-312; see Current Alaska Statutes).
  • establish a quorum;
  • take action by majority vote of the governing body; and
  • keep a journal of official proceedings.

Who enforces the rules?

Under state law, a local governing body elects a presiding officer and a deputy presiding officer from among its members. In a borough that has adopted the manager form of government and in cities, the mayor is the presiding officer. Under AS 29.20.380(10), the clerk acts as "parliamentary advisor".

Essentially, the presiding officer enforces the rules by following them when conducting a meeting and, when there is a question of procedure, the clerk would research the question and propose a resolution, which the presiding officer rules on. Members of the public also enforce the rules by questioning whenever something occurs that doesn't seem to follow the rules. The last resort for enforcement is a lawsuit.

Department of Community and Economic Development (Commerce) Local Government Specialists provide training on conducting effective meetings and are available to answer questions of procedure. The Alaska Municipal League (AML) also provides training.

What are the duties of the "Meeting Chair" or "Presiding Officer" at a public meeting?

The duties of the meeting chair are to organize and handle any pre-meeting needs, direct the flow of the meeting, ensure order, and ensure follow-up.

Before the meeting the presiding officer should ensure that:

    • The agenda is prepared.
    • Adequate public notice has been done.
    • Meeting packets have been delivered to members of the policy making body ahead of time so they are informed of the issues and ready to conduct business.
    • The meeting place is suitable and prepared for the meeting.
    • Meeting materials are available (writing materials, document copies, etc).

During the meeting the presiding officer should ensure that:

    • He/she knows the rules and follows them.
    • He/she keeps control of the meeting and establishes order when others stray from the rules.
    • Either a clear decision is made on an issue or it is officially set aside for another time.
    • Action items are clearly identified.
    • Assignments are made for doing the action items.
    • There is an official written record of the meeting being prepared.

An important point to keep in mind is that it is not the responsibility of the presiding officer to make the decision and use the meeting to inform the participants of the decision. All members of the body need to be involved in the decision-making process.

What are the duties of the governing body at a public meeting?

  • Know the rules.
  • Attend the meeting and be prepared to conduct business when you get there.
  • Read through any materials provided in the meeting packet before the meeting.
  • Participate in debate.
  • Be respectful of other members and the chair.

What are some suggestions for ensuring decisions made at the meeting are followed up?

Create an action/implementation plan and assign responsibility. The best run meeting is not of much use if there is no implementation.

Narrative

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Parliamentary Procedure is a formal set of rules and procedures for conducting a meeting of an organized group and is the most commonly used process for meetings. The purpose of Parliamentary Procedure is to:

  • Enable the group to transact business with speed and efficiency.
  • Protect the rights of each individual.
  • Assure that the will of the majority is carried out and the rights of the minority are preserved.
  • Ensure full and free debate of each item of business brought before the organization.
  • Preserve a spirit of harmony within the group.

The "Local Government Handbook" chapter on City Council Meetings provides detailed information on conducting meetings and using parliamentary procedure.

Additional Resources

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Publications

Additional Resources

Internet Links

Alaska Statutes and Regulations

Applicable Laws

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