I originally published this in my June 15, 2019 newsletter:
Examining previous Ann Arbor City Council agendas (as posted on Legistar), I found that there has been a dramatic increase in consent agenda items in the past few years. Prior to 2016, only budget items less than $100,000 could be included on the consent agenda. This rule was changed on December 7, 2015. Our current rules do not include this dollar amount threshold for inclusion on the regular agenda; now, any resolution or ordinance can be included on the consent agenda if it is “considered routine.”
There were over twice as many consent agenda items per year in 2016/2017/2018 (about 340/year) than there were in 2014/2015 (about 150/year). The length of this year’s consent agendas appear to be increasing at an even faster rate. It is concerning to me because this is the part of the agenda where approval is expected to happen without any discussion at all.
I believe that pulling things off the consent agenda is an appropriate thing to do when an item represents a large expense in the budget or an issue that will have a very direct impact on residents. City Council should be having public discussion of those agenda items. There is a certain amount of communication that happens ahead of or outside of our council meetings, either informally in conversation with staff or in the public record of our questions to the agenda. However, our televised meetings are often the most accessible place for residents to hear public debate and observe how Council weighs important decisions.