When local government meetings go past midnight

Suburbanites like smaller local government. But, local government meetings or hearings that go past midnight can be inconvenient. A recent example from an Illinois suburb discussing marijuana sales:

Angering residents who showed up in droves to oppose the sale of recreational marijuana in the village, Buffalo Grove trustees at about 1 a.m. Tuesday approved zoning regulations to allow it.

For 4½ hours, residents spoke passionately against recreational pot sales. But in the end, only one trustee, David Weidenfeld, voted against the regulations, which will allow recreational dispensaries as a special use in nonresidential areas — three business districts and the industrial district.

There are two issues at work here. The first is this: the article suggests there was a vocal set of residents opposed to marijuana sales who were not happy with the results. Local residents can become active if they perceive a change in the community will negatively affect their quality of life and/or property values (see recent suburban cases in Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, and Itasca). If the decision does not go their way – and there are plenty of cases where there are vocal residents and leaders on both sides – then resentment and long-term conflict can develop.

But, the second issue is what I want to focus on here: how late the meeting ran. How many residents, even if they are energized by a particular cause, can afford to stay out past midnight at a public meeting or hearing? Staying up that late can put a severe damper on the next day’s activities, particularly depending on jobs, family situations, and health. Residents may feel they need to stay to the end of a meeting to be heard but that comes at a cost.

Local officials may also be in a bind regarding time. Many municipalities already have rules in place so that individual speakers do not run too long and that plenty of people get a chance to speak. There is other business that needs to be conducted at many local meetings, including considering a variety of proposals, approving payments, and considering reports from other staff or committees. The meeting can only start so early as residents and leaders may be coming from jobs, dinner, and other responsibilities. Stretching meetings over multiple days may not be optimal though multiple meetings or hearings can happen if leaders want to provide more opportunities for people to voice their opinions.

In the particular case above, it looks like the public had a chance to speak – 4.5 hours – and therefore the approval could not come until later (and the approval was overwhelming). The late ending may have only rubbed salt in the wounds of those opposed to pot sales. But, as best practice, local officials should work to avoid concluding meetings in the wee hours in the morning.

Which comes first, the jobs or the people?

New research from an urban sociologist suggests that the conventional wisdom that jobs bring new residents doesn’t match reality:

But according to a study in the Journal of Urban Affairs, MSU’s Zachary Neal found the opposite to be true. Bringing the people in first – specifically, airline passengers traveling on business – leads to a fairly significant increase in jobs, he said.

“The findings indicate that people come first, then the jobs,” said Neal, assistant professor of sociology. “It’s just the opposite of an ‘If you build it, they will come’ sort of an approach.”

For the study, Neal examined the number of business air-travel passengers in major U.S. cities during a 15-year period (1993-2008). Business passengers destined for a city and not just passing through are a key to job growth, he said.

Attracting business travelers to the host city for meetings and other business activities by offering an easily accessible airport and other amenities such as hotels and conference centers is one of the best ways to create new jobs, Neal said. These business travelers bring with them new ideas and potential investment, which creates a positive climate for innovation and job growth. In the study, Neal analyzed all permanent nonfarm jobs…

Neal added that business airline traffic is far more important for a city’s economic vitality than population size – a finding he established in an earlier study and reaffirmed with the current research.

So will cities alter their strategies for creating jobs to match this research?

This could be taken as a call for improved infrastructure, specifically airports and convention centers. Such projects can be expensive and difficult to get off the ground. (As a good example, see the case of the proposed expansion of O’Hare Airport.) But if Neal is right, then having more capacity to bring in business travelers would lead to more jobs. The upfront cost to expand the airport or convention center or attract hotels for business travelers would pay off down the road.