The cost of making government meetings transparent

During my campaign for city council, I said boards and commissions should meet in the evening so working people can attend those meetings. But would moving those meetings to the evenings cause city government to spend more on overtime for city employees? That very objection was brought up after my guest editorial on this issue was published in 2012, and I answered it then.

This is a fairly easy answer. Flex time and compensatory time can be used (for non-exempt employees) to avoid paying overtime. Furthermore, not all people on boards and commissions are paid and some employees who attend meetings may be classified as “exempt” and are therefore not eligible for overtime or compensatory time. Even when overtime must be paid, open government is worth a little extra cost.

Furthermore, non-exempt employees have to take time out of their work day to attend a meeting in the first place. So if someone spends 90 minutes in a meeting that takes place between 8 and 5, that is time not available for doing other things. So if the meeting takes place after 6 p.m. the employee can, for example, leave at 3:30 on a Friday or use that time in some other way. We should not forget that at least some employees attending evening meetings are going to be exempt employees. The head of the Planning Department, for example, is probably an exempt employee. How do the Plan Commission and City Council handle employees who need to stay over right now for their evening meetings?

Finally, we must not forget a basic principle here: This issue is not and should not be about city government employees. It is about the public – the voters, citizens, residents and taxpayers. City government exists to serve the public, and that means city government’s boards and commissions need to be fully open to the public in everything they do. Transparency should be one of city government’s highest objectives!

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