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Anyone who has ever been part of a public meeting can appreciate anything that’s done to make the process go more smoothly.
But there’s reason to be cautious of making things go too fast.
Many times public boards, commissions and port authorities group together a number of items under something called a consent agenda, which usually appears near the beginning of their written meeting agenda.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, a consent agenda should include routine, procedural, informational and self-explanatory non-controversial items.
These items include such things as paying bills, approving minutes from the last meeting and approving the agenda itself. Generally a consent agenda is approved with a single unified vote from a board or commission.
And, if there’s something listed on a consent agenda that a board member wants to discuss in detail, it can be removed from the consent agenda by a vote of that board or commission.
The purpose of the consent agenda is to expedite business and streamline the meeting, and there is no discussion of items on a consent agenda. Some of these items have been discussed in detail at work or study sessions that the boards or commissions have held prior to the official action meeting.
Recently, the trend has been to place so many items on the consent agenda that some meetings of local school boards and the Kitsap County Commission take only 15 to 20 minutes.
At one school board meeting in July, there were 26 items under the consent agenda, all covered in a single vote.
While making good use of a public body’s time is a great thing, perhaps some items are being grouped under consent when they shouldn’t be.
Take, for example, contracts with other public utilities that are paid with taxpayer dollars to the tune of half a million dollars. Maybe that contract was discussed at a work session, but certainly something of that magnitude deserves a public vote in and of itself.
Too many times the public’s eyes are not seeing items that are brushed by as part of a consent agenda.
Elected officials need to think about whether items on the consent agenda should be discussed in public, even though the board or commission may have already talked about the matter in a work session.
Public watchdogs need to take the time to review the documents grouped as part of a consent agenda and ask that items they want to address be removed from consent and discussed separately.
But in many cases, contracts or agreements that are major should be pulled from the consent agenda and reviewed before the public at an open, recorded session.