standing Letters

For a number of years now, agendas for meetings of the Charlestown Town Council have been set in a manner unique to Charlestown. Charlestown’s process assures good governance by allowing the council to control its agenda and focus on the most pressing issues before it. At its Aug. 10 meeting, the majority of the Town Council voted to continue the current agenda-setting process.

That agenda-setting process works as follows. Before each agenda-setting meeting, all council members have the opportunity to propose agenda items. Every item proposed is placed on “a docket,” or list, that the town clerk prepares for the information of the council.

In a special public meeting held at least 48 hours after the posting of the docket, the entire council reviews the docket items and any others brought forward at the special meeting, and sets its agenda for the upcoming meeting. The public can watch the deliberations during the meetings or view the video recordings available on the town’s website. The council considers each proposed agenda item, and if a majority of the council agrees to add an item, it is placed on the agenda for the meeting under discussion.

In deciding which items to include on a particular agenda, the council considers the relative importance and urgency of the item, whether the item is ready for consideration or needs further investigation, and whether the item requires action by the town council or should be handled administratively. In most cases, items not placed on a particular agenda are reserved for consideration on future agendas.

There are, of course, differences of opinion about what items should be placed on an agenda. At least one member of the council has asserted that every item proposed for the docket should be included on the agenda and that the failure to conduct agenda-setting in this way means that her voice is being “ignored.” This reasoning is faulty. The council regularly engages in rigorous debate on issues but, ultimately, the council properly acts through a majority vote of those councilors elected to represent the interests of Charlestown’s citizens. “Voices” are heard through the introduction of proposed agenda items and in the course of debate on those issues. However, packing agendas with every item proposed by a councilor is not efficient, effective government. Long, unwieldy agendas containing items that do not have council support crowd out discussion of important matters that the council has a responsibility to address and act upon.

In addition, concerns about transparency are misplaced. The public can view the special meetings and see which items are proposed and which items are ultimately added to the agenda.

For these reasons, the decision of the Charlestown Town Council to continue its established agenda-setting process is in the best interest of all the town’s citizens.

Susan Cooper

Charlestown

The writer is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.

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