City Clerk Corner: Anatomy of a City Council Meeting
Have you ever attended a City Council meeting and wondered how they are structured? There are many elements to a public meeting conducted by a municipal government’s legislative body, and these elements are mostly governed by State law.
Below is a sample agenda for a City Council meeting, which describes the various components in more detail:
First, it’s important to understand the different types of legislative actions that the City Council can take to approve an item on the agenda:
· Ordinance: A law adopted by the City Council. Ordinances usually amend, repeal or supplement the Municipal Code; provide zoning specifications; or appropriate money for specific purposes. Most ordinances require two hearings: an introductory hearing generally followed by a second public hearing. Most ordinances go into effect 30 days after the date of final passage
· Resolution: A formal expression of opinion or intention of the City Council. Resolutions go into effect on the date of final passage.
· Minute Order: A motion made to approve an item that does not require a resolution or ordinance.
What is a motion? A motion is a proposal to take a specific action on an item. A Council Member can “move” to approve an item, and a second Council Member must “second” the motion before the full Council can deliberate or vote on that item. In most cases, an item needs a majority vote (4/7) in order to be approved.
Now that we understand the various actions that the City Council take during the meeting, let’s dive into the order of agenda items:
· CALL TO ORDER: As the meeting begins, the Mayor will call the meeting to order.
· ROLL CALL: The City Clerk will call the roll to determine all present members of the City Council. A majority of members (4/7) must be present to conduct a meeting (this is called a quorum).
· PRESENTATIONS / ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: This portion of the meeting recognizes special events, organizations or people within the Redwood City community. It may also include presentations from staff regarding current City efforts and events.
· PUBLIC COMMENT: General public comment is taken for items on the Consent Calendar, Matters of Council Interest and items NOT on the agenda for that meeting. Additional opportunity to give item-specific comments takes place when that particular item is called.
Public comment is typically limited to 2 minutes but can be further modified at the Mayor’s discretion.
Note that the City Council cannot engage in discussion on topics brought up during public comment, but if further follow up is needed, the City Council may direct staff to do so outside of the meeting setting or by placing a topic on a future agenda.
· CONSENT CALENDAR: The Consent Calendar consists of items that are routine in nature, and is typically approved in one motion unless an item is pulled for further discussion, in which case that item will receive a separate vote.
· PUBLIC HEARINGS: Public hearings are required when a specific law applicable to the item expressly requires a hearing for constitutional reasons. Sometimes a public hearing is still held if not required by law, in order to allow for extensive public comment. Special noticing requirements apply to public hearings during Council meetings.
Public comment is taken for each public hearing item, and is also subject to the 2-minute time limit or otherwise set forth by the Mayor.
· STAFF REPORTS: Staff reports are items that require additional context, consideration and deliberation. City staff typically presents the item to the City Council in greater depth before a vote is taken.
Public comment is taken for each staff report item, and is also subject to the 2-minute time limit or otherwise set forth by the Mayor.
· STUDY SESSIONS: Study Sessions are designed to provide more detailed information to the City Council and the public on upcoming or pending City projects and initiatives and also to obtain City Council feedback from the City Council. Study Sessions can also take place as a separate or special meeting of the City Council.
It is important to note that generally no City Council action is taken on study session items.
Public comment on study session items may be taken after City Council discussion, at the Presiding Officer’ discretion, and is also subject to a 2-minute time limit.
· MATTERS OF COUNCIL INTEREST (includes City Council Report of Conferences Attended, City Council Committee Reports, and City Manager Oral Update): The Matters of Council Interest portion of the meeting includes topics, information and reports that the City Council wishes to share with the community. This may include updates from recent City Council Sub-Committee meetings, reports on any recently attended conferences or events, as well as an oral update from the City Manager on recent City efforts.
Other City Council-initiated items, such as Council referrals, are placed under Matters of Council Interest.
Typically, public comment on these items are taken under general public comment at the top of the agenda, but may also take place when a particular item is called.
· ADJOURNMENT: City Council meetings conclude, or adjourn, no later than 11:00 p.m. unless a 5/7 majority of the Council votes to extend the meeting to discuss specified items. Any motion to extend the meeting shall include a list of the specified items to be handled.
Any items not completed at a regularly scheduled City Council meeting will be continued to the next regular business meeting or by 5/7 majority vote to a specified meeting.
Occasionally, the City Council may adjourn in memory of someone. Such a request is usually submitted through the Mayor.
Want to learn more? Our Guide to City Council Communications & Business is a great resource that deep dives into public participation during City Council meetings, as well as how the City Council and staff conduct City business. Additional topics include:
· Procedural rules
· How items are placed on a City Council
· Other ways to communicate with the City Council
· City Council — Staff communications