The idea of changing the time of the city’s board meetings was something worth trying, but the confusing way it was designed made it likely to fail.
It would have been better to have changed the time for all meetings.
As someone who covers many meetings, for selfish reasons I don’t mind them being held during the day. They fit into the regular work day schedule, even if I often stay up at night writing the stories to meet deadlines on time. At least I can do it while the kids are in bed.
But changing the meeting times made sense if you’re interested in public participation.
I’ve covered seven other city boards in the Mississippi Delta area, and all of them met after 5 p.m.
As a rookie reporter sometimes I would cover the first two hours of Mound Bayou’s city council meeting before driving on to Shelby’s meeting which began at 7 p.m. Of course those meetings moved a little faster that Yazoo City’s do most of the time.
One thing that was true about both of those meetings were that there were more residents present and interested in what was going on.
There’s a simple reason for that. Unless they are retired, the most intelligent and engaged people, the kind of people who could best contribute to public meetings, are going to be working until 5 p.m. Few people have jobs where they can take off regularly to attend public meetings.
Public participation is a good thing. It helps city leaders make more thoughtful decisions when they know people are paying attention. There are also plenty of smart people who could offer some different perspectives on issues facing our local government.
Ward 2 Alderman Dr. Jack Varner has strongly protested the 5:30 p.m. meeting times. Varner, who is in his 80s, says he doesn’t like to drive after dark, and he also clearly doesn’t like how long the meetings last.
One experience I had early in my career makes me think Dr. Varner may have a good point about older aldermen getting out at night.
I was covering a Shelby city board meeting, and they announced that a newly improved city park would be opened to the public that weekend with a celebration. The board asked if I would come and take pictures, and I agreed that I would.
When they asked me if I knew where the park was, I almost didn’t admit that I did not. Shelby is a very small town, and I could have found it easily.
But since I didn’t know, one of the aldermen volunteered to drive me. This gentleman was a very smart man who I respected very much, but he was around 90 and I wasn’t really thrilled about the idea. But he was such a nice guy that I couldn’t say no.
I hopped into the passenger seat of his Cadillac, and he slowly took off down the dark and deserted streets of Shelby.
About 30 minutes later we were still cruising the streets of Shelby, and by now I was convinced that I had seen everything in the town except for the park we were looking for.
I had seen the nicest and poorest neighborhoods. We had cruised through downtown several times. We almost made it to Duncan once before he realized we were off course and turned around.
It was clear that he was struggling to drive at night, and it was equally clear that he didn’t want to admit it. I was too nice to say anything so I just sat back and appreciated the absurdity of the situation.
I was just about to insist that we call off the search when suddenly there it was, the elusive park. It turned out that it was only a couple of blocks away from the city hall where our journey began. I made a quick mental note of which street to turn on as I hopped out to take a look at the park and thanked him for the ride.
“Well, son let me take you back to your car now,” he said.
“No sir,” I responded. “It’s a perfect night to take a little stroll.”