5 Core Strategies for Managing Municipal Meetings Effectively

Lena Eisenstein

Municipal meetings provide a public forum in which elected officials, government staff and citizens come together to develop and maintain a safe, prosperous and neighborly community. The city council makes many decisions every year. Quality decision-making depends on the council being willing to listen to the perspectives of their fellow council members, citizens’ groups, advisory committees, local chambers of commerce and other organizations.

The council takes all ideas under consideration and approves, modifies, delays or rejects them. In casting their votes, the council needs to analyze the community’s needs, to identify available resources and to assess any viable alternatives.

Technology designed with municipal governments in mind enhances municipal meetings and makes them easier to manage. Digital board governance tools help to connect the government with citizens who can’t come to meetings. With the use of the right technology, in-person meetings can be more productive and satisfying as well.

5 Core Strategies for Managing Municipal Meetings

Effective meetings don’t happen on their own. Productive meetings require people working together, effective processes, and appropriate tools that bring everything together for a meeting at which all attendees feel like their voices are heard and they are contributing something positive. It’s helpful to keep five core strategies in mind when planning and executing municipal meetings:

  1. Maintaining Order

It’s common for municipalities to have a policy that guides their council meetings. The vast majority of councils adopt Robert’s Rules of Order and follow parliamentary procedure. Such rules help to eliminate disagreements about order and protocol.

Council members and government staff should be clear on the rules of the Freedom of Information Act to honor citizens’ requests for information.

Councils need a skilled presiding officer who can successfully keep order as many ideas and perspectives come forth. The presiding officers should be familiar with the basic rules of order, including the order of permitting people to speak, so that as many voices can be heard in as  short a time as possible. A skilled meeting facilitator is respectful to all attendees and is capable of dealing with disruptions swiftly and professionally.

  1. Utilize Committees and Work Groups Effectively

It’s impossible for most councils to address all pertinent issues during municipal meetings. Much of the important work happens in committees and work groups. Boards should schedule an adequate number of committee and work group meetings for discussions to be productive.

The use of executive session is a good tool when needed and when council members know how to use it effectively. Through executive session, certain circumstances allow boards to close part of the meeting for an executive session. The council has to vote in public to close the meeting. The purpose of executive session is for the council to consider specific issues for which public disclosure could harm the individual interests or the legitimate interests of the governing body. Council members must abide by the rules for executive session. Council members may only discuss such issues as personal matters and property acquisition and disposition, and may get advice from legal counsel for current or potential legal concerns.

  1. Prepare Well for an Effective Meeting

Council members and citizens will come to municipal meetings well-informed and well-prepared. It’s considered best practice to make sure that agenda packets are available to council members and citizens at least a week prior to the meeting.

Most councils find that it’s helpful to incorporate several agenda items under a consent agenda, where the council can vote on several matters with one vote.

Paper agenda packets have long been the norm, but board portal software streamlines the processes for setting up an agenda and allowing access to reports, documents and links online. Council members and citizens can access meeting materials in real time and get updates as they occur.

  1. Make the Best Use of Technology

Some councils have dabbled in early technologies just to find that they have poor audio or video quality, or that they work inconsistently. Having the wrong technology causes disruption and confusion to the meeting.

Digital board portals and other software solutions by iCompass, a Diligent brand, were created using designs that enhance municipal meetings. Audio and video programs are clear and reliable, and councils can add them online without unnecessary delays.

iCompass’s Video Manager runs in high definition for the ultimate in clarity. Citizens can view council meetings online in real time or watch the recorded versions later. Council members have the capability to add closed captioning and timestamps for even better communication.

Meeting Manager by iCompass is a software program with an easy-to-use agenda template that clerks can easily use after meetings to create meeting minutes in short order. The time savings can be substantial compared with printing, updating and distributing paper board books, which is far too time-consuming and uses too many resources, including paper, ink, equipment and labor.

The Board Manager tool uses automation to keep track of online application and to track terms and vacancies on boards and commissions. The platform alleviates much time and labor spent collecting and tracking vacancies and applications for new appointments.

As an added benefit, council members can access their digital programs on any mobile device, making them a convenient option that’s also highly secure.

  1. Post Meeting Activities

When municipal meetings are over, there is still work to be done. Clerks need to post the meeting minutes. For councils that use digital software, clerks can post council meeting minutes online as soon as they have formal approval.

Clerks or the presiding officer will need to monitor follow-up tasks. To make things easier, clerks can set up board portals to automate post-meeting tasks. In addition, council members will need to loop back and discuss needed changes with staff. An occasional post-council meeting survey to get public feedback will tell council members how well the meeting ran and where they can improve.

Running local government successfully is hard work. City officials know that it requires serious commitment, time and knowledge on their part, so they need municipal meetings to run smoothly and to be as productive and efficient as possible. Technology helps to streamline processes, improve internal and external communications, and help councils function as efficiently as possible.

Related Insights
Lena Eisenstein
Lena Eisenstein is a former Manager at Diligent. Her expertise in mission-driven organizations, including nonprofits, school boards and local governments, centers on how technology and modern governance best practices empower leaders at these organizations to serve their communities with efficiency and purpose.