EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – With some opposition, the El Paso City Council voted to reduce their time to speak on topics during meetings.
In a 6-2 vote, the council decided to only permit members to speak for 10-minute periods while discussing major topics on agendas. Only District 2 and 4 representatives Alexsandra Annello and Joe Molinar voted against the proposal.
Each member is allowed two turns to speak. The council adopted 15-minute periods two meetings ago when new members took office.
The proposal was sponsored by Cissy Lizarraga, Isabel Salcido and Henry Rivera. The three expressed that their item was not intended to limit other representatives’ ability to speak on items but to speed up meetings.
“This will help us keep regular meetings on track the ones that tend to run the longest and focus on efficiency,” Salcido said. “There will be no time limits for agenda review meetings and any other special meetings items not discussed in agenda review meetings.”
The vote comes after Mayor Oscar Leeser prompted discussion about how long a meeting conducted on Jan. 20 took. The meeting ended at 1:30 a.m. and the council had not completed going through their entire agenda.
In the time of the pandemic, meetings have lasted late into the night due to hours-long discussions on testing, vaccinations and programs associated with aiding El Pasoans. Meetings have lasted into the early hours of the next day when regular agendas get mixed in with COVID-19 discussions.
Lately, the El Paso City Council has held meetings at 3:30 p.m. rather than at 9 a.m.
Lisa Turner, who keeps a watchful eye on city government, called into the meeting to say she’s watched council meetings for 20 years and said meetings have gone on for hours without breaks. It’s one day every two weeks, so members of the council should be able to plan around the meeting, she added.
She told the council to read backups to agenda items, which would help alleviate questions from the council. The proposal was an attempt to limit people speaking, she added.
“If you can’t do the job, can’t put in the time to do the job then please resign so your constituents can find somebody to do the job,” Turner said.
Under the rule, the city clerk will keep an eye on the time each representative takes and notify the mayor when they hit their limit. It also allows for two intervals to each representative per topic.
During Dee Margo’s time as mayor, the council was limited to 10-minute intervals.
Leeser told the council that he would refrain from having council members’ microphones.
District 1 city Rep. Peter Svarzbein said having discussions in public is why the representatives are elected. He said the job an all day job no matter where to go.
Svarzbein said “this is what we signed up for.”
“I think this is much ado about nothing,” Svarzbein said. “The challenges that we have relating to the time and the extension of the time really have been when we have had holidays where we have had our COVID updates on the same day as our regular City Council meetings.”
Annello said efficiency is important but there are other options to try before limiting a council member’s time to speak. She said though the Austin City Council allows for 10-minute intervals, they do not have executive session discussions at the same time and meet at another time.
She said the council used to meet weekly and it may be an option to have meetings take less time.
“Until those options are explored, and we are having the same issue, I am not going to support this item,” she said.