My first trip to a city council meeting and what I learned
Have YOU ever been to a council meeting? Well I hadn’t been either until May 6. That’s when I came out to Women and Politics first ‘Council, Coffee & Cushions’ event. Over the course of the evening, as I sat and watched council debate issues that included London’s food trucks, I observed a few things. Here’s what I learned.
It’s more fun and less intimidating with a group.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Women and Politics. Knowing I could meet up at a familiar location first, and then head over together as a group was terrific. Immediately upon arriving at Williams, it was obvious that there were some seasoned veteran attendees amongst us, as well as newbies like myself. Phew! Someone knows where to go and when we should get there.
Get to know your councillors – it’s worth the trip.
Honestly, if you are thinking about voting for someone who already sits on council you should really go and see how they handle themselves in person.
Some councilors joked around to the side, at one point flipping a coin while another councilor spoke. Another discussed concerns they had about the food truck by-law, and then proceeded to not pay attention to anything said thereafter. And, more than once questions were asked that seemed fairly basic that should have been dealt with earlier.
On the other hand, there were councillors who conducted themselves professionally, took notes of what was being said and when it was their time to speak got to their points quickly and effectively.
It makes reading the media reports the next day more interesting.
Reporters need to boil down hours of activity into 400 words or less. If you’re like me you’ll be curious to see what they felt were the key points and quotes as compared to your own perceptions of what happened. You will also have a lot more insight into how the decision made was arrived at – and in what style.
Directions – there is no signage in the lobby directing you to council chambers.
To reach the viewing area, go to the third floor and then follow the signs. Several in the group felt that a sign on the main floor, at the front entrance, in plain view indicating where to go would be helpful. There are signs on the third floor but they do blend into the brick so keep a careful eye out for them. (There is a ladies bathroom around the corner. The label for it is on the door handle.)
General set up
The councillors sit in a horseshoe configuration across from the viewing balcony. The Mayor along with the Clerk and Deputy Clerk sit in the middle of this semi-circle.
City staff sit in two rows facing the horseshoe and are called upon to provide further information as needed.
All of the councillors and city staff have computers at hand, as well as microphones. When someone speaks they generally stand and only the microphone at their location is on. Votes were submitted electronically from each councilor’s computer with the City Clerk announcing the results.
On the wall behind the councillors are two large screens which display the motions that are being considered, as well as voting results.
Last but not least, at the back of the room, directly below the viewing area is where the media are.
Be prepared for ceremonial activities.
There is a gentleman in a crisp military like uniform – the Sergeant in Arms – who will ask you to rise as the mayor enters. He will then place a ceremonial Chain of Office around the Mayor’s neck. Finishing up he will move a silver mace onto an upper ‘shelf’ in front of the Mayor to indicate council is now in session. At that point you may take your seat again.
Be prepared for lots of suits and ties amongst council and staff adding to the formal tone of the meeting.
The timeline can be unpredictable.
Speeches and discussion can take longer than expected and in-camera sessions (portions of council held in private allowing for confidential discussions with legal counsel) can become necessary. Then there was the dinner break, which of course ran long.
Get ready for a long meeting, with possible down times. Bring water, some snacks, a good book or a cell phone. Be brave and say “hi” to the person next to you and start a conversation.
Would I go again?
Absolutely. I don’t know why I felt so hesitant about attending a council meeting – but I did. Now I feel comfortable that I know where to go and have some expectations on what will happen when I get there.
Women and Politics plans to host council trips again in the future. Please stay tuned to our events calendar for more information.