The Durham City Council plans to vote May 16 on whether to hold one or more of its daytime work sessions at night.
At a work session last week, five of the seven council members said they support leaving the work session at 1 p.m.
The council’s newest members, Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson, both elected in November, supported moving at least one of the sessions to the evening to see if more members of the public show up.
The City Council took up the issue after Robert Stephens, a candidate in the last City Council race, raised concerns about access to the work sessions.
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Stephens said changing the start time gives everyone, including those who work during the day, the opportunity to participate in the city’s democratic process.
“This was an issue at the heart of my campaign, and it is still an issue now,” he said. “This is about the hardworking citizens of Durham being shut out of the political process.”
Opponents said they haven’t heard any complaints, that the change would strain staff and that the daytime meetings allow people who work at night to participate in the process. They also said that if members of the public want to speak at the work session, they generally find a way to make it to the meeting.
In general, the City Council holds formal business meetings the first at third Monday at 7 p.m.
Work sessions are held at 1 p.m. on Thursdays preceding the business meeting. At its work sessions, the City Council discusses items on its agenda and asks city staff questions relating to items. At business meetings the council typically holds public hearings and votes on proposals.
Mayor Bill Bell said when he was on the Board of County Commissioners he advocated for its action meetings to be moved to the evening, which eventually happened in 1982.
“So, I have been down that path,” he said. However, Bell said, he didn’t hear anything during the recent campaign about an interest in changing work sessions times to the evening.
“I disagree when somebody says that people are shut out of the political process,” Bell said. “If there is any city in North Carolina where people are involved in the political process it is here in Durham.”
The Durham City Council plans to vote on whether to hold work sessions in the evening at its next business meeting, 7 p.m. May 16.
Meetings are held in Council Chambers at 101 City Hall Plaza in downtown.