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New limits have City Council members beating the clock

Perhaps it was a message from above.

Two bongs sounded at 9:13 a.m. _ 43 minutes into a new self-imposed time limit for City Council members. City Clerk Jane Brown later swore that the electronic gong _ normally used to signal speakers from the public that their time is up _ activated on its own.

But it provided a potent reminder of the new rules in effect. A startled Council Chairman Ernest Fillyau cut short his remarks after the gongs sounded, while his colleagues chuckled awkwardly.

The new policy worked. City Council members were noticeably less talkative Thursday and managed to complete their weekly meeting in just over 4{ hours. That's a major accomplishment for a group whose meetings recently have stretched to 10 hours.

"I thought it went really well," said council member Frank Peterman, who came up with the policy. "It's a nice beginning because I think it disciplines us."

The policy allows council members to talk no more than three minutes at a time. They get a three-minute statement, a three-minute follow-up, and a one-minute summation.

Remarkably, all eight council members complied with the new rules. Most frequently brushed right up against their time limit, but none broke it, according to Brown and Eva Andujar of the clerk's office.

No one mentioned the new rules, but everyone was clearly aware of them. First there was the mystery gong. Later, Fillyau gently urged member Connie Kone to wrap up one of her statements. "I'll quit," she agreed, grumbling about stop watches.