City Council members held the first of their new lunch meetings Tuesday, dining on roast beef sandwiches and cake while discussing upcoming utility projects and transit issues.
The Raleigh council will hold the “work sessions” before each regular twice-monthly meeting, aiming to have an informal setting to discuss topics that don’t require a vote. But the new meetings have drawn fire because they won’t be televised on the Raleigh Television Network, which offers government meetings on a cable channel and the city’s website.
Tuesday’s session included a presentation about a new sewer line along Crabtree Creek as well as a talk by Planning Director Mitchell Silver on the economic benefits of transit.
“I think you’ll be able to see the value of this with the two topics today,” said City Manager Ruffin Hall, who proposed the lunch meetings.
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The meetings mark the first major change in years to how the council conducts its business. In the past, council members have not been served meals outside daylong retreats. City officials have budgeted $15 per person for the lunches, or about $150 per session. With two lunches per month, the total comes to about $3,400 per year.
For now, the Raleigh Convention Center is catering the lunches, which Tuesday included sandwiches, pasta salad, cake and bottled water or soda. Lou Buonpane of the city manager’s office said the council could decide later to use other food providers, but the city-owned facility makes sense initially. “Reliability is as important as cost,” he said.
The convention center isn’t the cheapest lunch provider downtown. The Square Rabbit bakery, for example, offers box lunches with a similar menu for $8 per person.
Some Raleigh residents who follow city government have complained that the lunch sessions won’t be televised like the council’s other meetings. One local activist worried that council members might reach a consensus before the public hearing process.
Location not yet TV-ready
Tuesday’s first presentation – an update about a $30 million sewer project – detailed potential road closures at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Hodges Street, where a new sewer line will be installed. The council also discussed efforts to notify neighbors about bedrock blasting required in the project.
Silver’s talk – which he’d already made to the advocacy group WakeUP Wake County – detailed how light-rail and other transit projects can lead to economic development.
“I think it’s a good thing to look at these big-picture things as a group when we’re not on the verge of a vote,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
Raleigh Television Network isn’t showing the lunch sessions because they’re held in a small third-floor conference room that doesn’t have built-in cameras like the City Council chamber. Buonpane said the council once considered installing cameras in the smaller room but decided the effort would be too costly.
Stephenson said the council should consider televising future lunch meetings. “All that information is information that it would great if I could tell a citizen or a citizens group that ‘here’s a link to the full presentation,’ ” he said.
In future lunch sessions, the council will get an update on plans for Raleigh Union Station, discuss the city’s economic development policies and talk about its process for issuing contracts.