Late-night Denver City Council meetings could become a thing of the past as council members have started discussing ways to reorganize the weekly general meetings to end earlier.
Councilman Chris Herndon brought up the issue during Wednesday’s council operations meeting, saying the current meeting structure lasts too late into the night, which is inconvenient for council members and the public.
“Whether you have young children or work a second shift, our current standard doesn’t include everybody,” Herndon said. “Is there a way we can make it more inclusive?”
The council's general meeting now is held every Monday, starting at 5 p.m. with 30 minutes of public comments, followed by the official meeting start at 5:30 p.m.
Each meeting begins with introductory protocols including the pledge of allegiance, land acknowledgement, roll call, approval of minutes, announcements and proclamations. The council then reads proposed bills and resolutions, discusses those called out by members and holds a vote. After the vote, the council takes a brief break and reconvenes to hold public hearings for bills under final consideration. Those hearings, which are required for all rezonings, allow an unlimited number of people to sign up to speak and sign up doesn’t close until the council’s break.
The process has resulted in some Monday meetings lasting into Tuesday morning, including February’s vote on a group living amendment, which lasted until after 1 a.m. when over 100 people called in to the meeting to comment.
“We aren't always at our best in the wee hours of the evening,” said Councilwoman Kendra Black. “I am interested in looking at this more.”
Council members suggested holding a separate meeting earlier in the day Monday to take care of introductory protocols and hold votes for bills and resolutions that do not require public hearings.
Proposals for the meeting time ranged from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. After that meeting, the council would continue to hold its regular public comment session, followed immediately by required public hearings and related votes.
“I don’t think our current system is easy for people who come to participate,” said Councilman Jolon Clark in support of a change. “It’s a lot to tell folks, ‘Hey, our meeting starts at this time. You could be speaking pretty quick, or you could be speaking after midnight.’ ”
Other suggestions included flipping the meeting order to start with public hearings and end with votes and introductory protocols, or implementing a hard stop time where the council cuts off public hearings and reschedules if they go past a set time, such as 10 p.m.
Others questioned the need for any change.
Council President Stacie Gilmore said over the past year, nearly all meetings had public hearings but only “a couple” lasted past midnight. Other members said that by allowing virtual participation, it’s easier to handle long meetings from home instead of at the council chambers.
In a survey earlier this year, Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said she asked the public if they’d support changing council meetings so that business without public comment could be handled during the day. Of respondents, 46.2% said yes, 31.3% said no and 22.5% said they had no opinion.
“There is no single way to do this that is all positive and doesn’t have negatives,” Councilman Kevin Flynn said. “There is no time when it’s convenient for 100% of the public.”
Council members requested more outreach before making any official decisions, in addition to data analysis on how long Denver’s council meetings last on average and what council structures are successful in other cities.
Herndon said cities including Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Chicago and Los Angeles hold their city council meetings between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., and they all have public hearings during the meetings.
No formal motion or proposal was made Wednesday. Herndon said he will work with city staff and leadership to determine how to move forward.