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“I don’t feel tardy”

I have five things to say about this article on how City Council meetings have always started late since 2004:

1. I’m trying to resist the urge to say “So what?” here. Yes, when you expect something to start at 9 AM and it doesn’t actually start until 9:30, it’s annoying. But it’s not at all clear to me from this article that the actual impact of the Council’s inability to start on time rises to the level of “news”, as opposed to “trivia”. Only one member of the public was quoted in the piece, so it’s hard to judge whether this is merely a frustration or if it has caused someone who had business before Council, or who just wanted to hear about a particular issue, any genuine inconvenience. Surely if this were a real problem, there’d be some anecdotes out there, about missing work or not getting to testify or something, I don’t know. But if there are such complaints, they’re not in the article. So how are the 99.9% of us who’ve never attended a Council meeting in our lives supposed to tell if this is something that should bother us?

(Along similar lines, if this has been such a problem for so long, maybe it should have been reported on before now? Like maybe after six months or so? Just saying.)

2. There are other ways to judge how well a meeting has been run than just starting on time. Things like staying on agenda, keeping a decent tempo, fostering open dialog – if you’ve ever worked for a large company, you know the things I’m talking about. Now that we know Mayor White would flunk a promptness test, how does he do in other matters? (And how does he compare to his predecessors in them?) Speaking from my own personal experience, I’ll take a meeting that starts late but ends on time over a meeting that starts on time but ends late any day of the week. What other dimensions are there?

3. While Council’s tardiness may look bad, they’re nothing compared to the State Lege, where committee meetings almost never have a set start time, almost never start on time when they do have a set start time, and public testimony is the lowest item on the priority list. Stories abound every session about people who drove all day to attend and speak at a meeting, then finally giving up at 4 AM because they still weren’t near their turn to testify. This gets back to what I asked in item 1: How (if at all) has the Council’s habit of fashionable start times actually affected people?

4. There was a lot of filler in this story. Honestly, who cares what some “San Francisco time management consultant” thinks? Or, with all due respect, what a local poli sci professor (and Republican blogger) thinks?

5. Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, results matter, too. Last I checked, a pretty high percentage of the voters thought the Mayor was getting good results. Is there a case to be made that we could get even better results if he called the meetings to order in a timely manner? Maybe, but if so I haven’t seen it yet.

I see that reporter Matt Stiles has taken a little ribbing for this story. I have no quibble with his point, articulated in the comments, that not every story needs to be big and weighty and that “it’s also fun (and enlightening for readers) to write a talker once in a while about fizzy water or attendance”. I guess maybe what I’m saying is that while it was clear to me that the Dr Pepper story was intended to be taken lightly, this one felt more like it was supposed to be Real News. As such, it missed the mark.

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2 Comments

  1. Kevin Whited says:

    Was that a SIXTH point (about non-news, in your view) that you sneaked in there at the end? 🙂

  2. Nicholas says:

    I agree with #1… who cares!