The business conducted by Albany County commissioners could become easier for constituents to follow if proposals from Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent come to fruition.
Trent and her staff have crafted new Rules of Procedure for the county board which would give greater structure to the process by which county officials prepare for commission meetings.
During a Tuesday work session, the commissioners and other county officials spent two hours discussing potential changes to county meetings, including the possibility of live-streaming meetings.
Under current practice, topics that need to be addressed by the commissioners are submitted to the county clerk’s office during the week preceding a meeting. Documents pertaining to that topic — proposal contracts, grant applications, etc. — are typically submitted to Trent’s office for legal review.
On the Friday afternoon preceding a Tuesday commission meeting, county clerk staff finalize and publicize an agenda.
However, Trent said that many items on the agenda don’t have a legal review completed by the time their put on an agenda.
That happened last week, when commissioners called a special meeting to approve a liquor license transfer amid the planned sale of Centennial’s Beartree Tavern & Cafe. The commissioners called another special meeting three days later to rescind that transfer after discovering there were still issues in flux regarding the sale. Trent said the liquor license sale wouldn’t have made it before the board last week if she had time to review the sale.
Another agenda item was removed from Tuesday’s commission agenda because Trent hadn’t completed a legal review.
“If something hasn’t been signed off in a legal review, it shouldn’t be put on your agenda,” Trent said Tuesday.
Trent plans to ask officials to have agenda items submitted to her office approximately two weeks before a meeting. A hard deadline for submitting documents for a legal review, however, are not included in the Rules of Procedure.
Once the legal review is completed, all related documents would be required to be submitted to Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales a week before each commission meeting.
Each issue would then be prioritized and vetted during the Wednesday pre-agenda meeting. The county already has a pre-agenda meeting each Wednesday, but non-emergent agenda items frequently get added afterwards.
Under the new system, only emergent topics would be allow to be added to agendas if the deadlines are missed.
A firm structure, Trent said, would help end the current “crisis” style of conducting county business.
The proposed system of having all materials submitted to the clerk a week in advance, Trent said, is only as effective as the robustness of its enforcement.
“If (documentation is) not done, it doesn’t go on the agenda, and the chairperson needs to say that,” Trent said.
Commissioners currently have access to a server that contains all documents related to their meetings. However, that board “packet” currently isn’t available to the public unless an individual requests a specific document from Gonzales or her staff.
If commissioners require all documents to be submitted a week before each meeting, county clerk staff would then be tasked with having all packet material available to the public — via the county website — by the Friday before a meeting.
Trent said that, too often, some documents currently don’t even make it before the commissioners until the day of a meeting.
Noting the recent success of Laramie City Council’s live-streaming of meetings, Trent said the county too needs to pursue having video be available.
“I think we absolutely need to do that,” commission chair Terri Jones agreed.
The proposed Rules of Procedure would also limit the amount of work a single commissioner can task staff with.
If a task requested by a commissioner would take more than an hour to complete, the proposed rules require that task to be approved by the full board.
Grants manager Tai Wright said that she’s occasionally tasked with work that might not be the priority of the entire board.
Wright said that, with the multitude of grants Albany County is eligible, she’s not sure how she should prioritize her time.
Having the commissioners as a whole set policy priorities, like economic development or infrastructure, would help Wright and other staff decide their priorities, she said.
Trent plans to have the commissioners review the proposed rules March 5 before they go out for public comment. After a 45-day comment period and a public notice is issued, the proposed rules will be brought back to the county board for final approval.
The proposed Rules of Procedure touch on numerous other issues, including the use of executive sessions, the order of meetings, beginning meetings in a timely manner and receipt of public comments.