No one has questioned Amherst city council meeting start times for years and years.
That changed Monday when councilman Chuck Winiarski asked to standardize meeting times at 7 p.m.
Since 1989, committee meetings — held the first and third Mondays of each month — have started at 7 p.m., while regular council sessions — held the second and fourth Mondays — have started at 7:30 p.m.
Amherst law director Tony Pecora could give no reason. City council president John Dietrich, who has served for decades, could give no reason.
But auditor David Kukucka’s memory summoned the reason behind the staggered start times: Long ago, committees could debate long agendas for hours, sometimes stretching past 10 p.m.
Once that happened, council members would have to vote to extend their talks, sometimes as late as 11:30 p.m.
Starting 30 minutes earlier helped rein in those late nights, Kukucka said.
The News-Times remembers those achingly long meetings well. We watched council committees under former mayor John Higgins tackle sometimes 20 items in a single night, often leading to tiredness and tempers.
Modern agendas are much shorter. Chalk that up to council having less money to spend since the 2007-2010 recession, along with the gradual disappearance of large chunks of developable land.
Councilman Phil Van Treuren said he’d like to see meetings moved as early as 6:30 p.m. to better accommodate officials who are also parents, but also as a courtesy to members of the press.
But some council members, including David Janik, were wary of moving meetings too early in the evening when they could overlap with commutes and school board meetings.
After 20 minutes of discussion, council agreed informally to start all its sessions at 7 p.m. starting immediately.
It must still pass formal legislation to write that sentiment into the Amherst Codified Ordinances, however.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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