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.

Waterbeds and “straitlaced suburban living”

A 2016 piece from Mental Floss connects waterbeds to suburbs:

Although many associate waterbeds with strait-laced suburban living, back in the ‘70s they were a symbol of the free-flowing counterculture movement—more likely to be sold with incense and Doors albums than with fluffy pillows and high thread count sheets. “That fluid fixture of 1970s crash pads” was how a New York Times story from 1986 described them. The names of manufacturers and distributors reflected this: Wet Dream, Joyapeutic Aqua Beds, and Aquarius Products were a few that rolled with the times.

Sex, of course, was a big selling point. “Two things are better on a waterbed,” an Aquarius ad stated. “One of them is sleep.” Another ad proclaimed, “She’ll admire you for your car, she’ll respect you for your position, and she’ll love you for your waterbed.” Hippies and hip bachelors alike were the target market for the bed that promised the motion of the ocean. Hall even got in on the act, offering a $2800 “Pleasure Island” setup, complete with contour pillows, color television, directional lighting, and a bar. Hugh Hefner loved the craze, of course—Hall made him one covered in green velvet, and Hef had another that he outfitted in Tasmanian possum hair.

By the ’80s, waterbeds had moved from the hazy fringe to the commercial mainstream. “It has followed the path of granola and Jane Fonda,” the Times noted. Indeed, waterbeds were available in a variety of styles, from four-post Colonials to Victorian beds with carved headboards to simple, sturdy box frames. Allergy sufferers liked having a dust-free mattress, while back pain sufferers were drawn to the beds’ free-floating quality. Advertisements by sellers like Big Sur Waterbeds played up the health benefits with shirtless, beefy dudes like this one…

By 1984, waterbeds were a $2 billion business. At the height of their popularity, in 1987, 22 percent of all mattress sales in the U.S. were waterbed mattresses.

While the particular history (and then demise) of the waterbed is interesting in itself, it hints at larger patterns. Is this is an isolated story of a product that goes from the counterculture to suburban homes or is this a common pattern among American consumer goods and cultural products? What was once radical or born out of a subgroup can become simply a run-of-the-mill item found in millions of homes. Cool often can only last so long. I am reminded of the argument that the retailer Gap lost its edge when it became another company looking for suburban consumers.

Of all the consumer goods I could think of that are associated with the suburbs, it would be a long time before I made it to waterbed. I might have to start such a list with cars (after ruling out single-family homes because they are too expensive to really quality for such a list).

Using a list of “sleep-deprived professions to illustrate statistical and substantive significance”

I ran into a list of “sleep-deprived jobs” yesterday and I think it is a useful tool for illustrating what significance means. The top five sleep deprived jobs (starting with the least rested): home health aide (6 hours, 57 minutes), lawyer, police officers, physicians/paramedics, and economists. The top five jobs with the most sleep (starting with the most rested): forest/logging workers (7 hours, 22 minutes), hairstylists, sales representatives, bartenders, and construction workers. Here is where the data from the list came from:

The lists are based on interviews with 27,157 adults as part of the annual National Health Interview Survey, conducted by a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sleepy’s says its rankings were based on two variables: 1) average hours of sleep that respondents said they got in a 24-hour period, and 2) respondents’ occupations, as they would be classified by the Department of Labor.

Let’s talk about significance. First, statistical significance. The lower value is 6 hours and 57 minutes and the highest value is 7 hours, 22 minutes. We would need to know how the data is clustered, meaning does it look like a normal distribution (meaning most jobs are clumped in the middle) or it is a broader distribution? With a standard deviation, we could figure out how far these highest and lowest values are from the mean and whether they are outside 95% of all the cases.

Perhaps more interesting in this case is the second aspect of significance: even if a case is significantly different from the other cases, is this a meaningful difference in the real world? Just looking at the ten occupations at the top and bottom of this list, the top and bottom are separated by 35 minutes. Would roughly a half hour of sleep really change the quality of life or health between home health aides and forest/logging workers? Of course, sleep might not be the only factor that matters here but is this a meaningful difference? The Mayo Clinic recommends 7-9 hours a night for adults, the National Sleep Foundation also says 7-9 hours a night, and both agree that there are a lot of other factors involved. On the whole then, it appears that the average American (who is in an occupation) is on the low end of recommended sleep (a recurring theme in news stories over the years).

It appears that this list isn’t that helpful if everyone is relatively clustered together. But if we had a little more information, we could know more and determine whether there are (statistically and substantively) significant occupations.

More evidence: start school day later for teens

It seems like I have been reading for years about studies that say that teenagers perform much better in school when the starting time is pushed back. Here is another study that suggests starting the day 30 minutes later leads to “stunning” results.

It raises a question: why don’t more schools respond by changing their starting times? I’ve heard arguments about this interfering with after-school activities, particularly sports. It may conflict with schedules for siblings in schools with different starting times or may lead to a shortage of buses since early high school times mean the buses can be used again for elementary students. And there are more reasons that get thrown around, many probably legitimate.

But: if the real goal of educators (and the supporting parents) is to help students succeed in school (specifically: boost learning), isn’t this something that needs to change?