So let it be written…
Tired human brains are not ideal apparatus for making proper decisions involving millions of dollars and the sacred public purse.
Surrey’s council meeting on Monday, Nov. 28/Tuesday, Nov. 29 ran on until 2:19 a.m., with important bylaws being considered after the politicians heard from 81 speakers who spoke to 17 applications during the public hearing alone.
The majority of speakers have their say and leave, or stay a while to listen, while others habitually speak to each and every item before council, engorging themselves on their captive audience’s time.
It’s a problem. In early 2018, mayor Linda Hepner and council voted to put a five-minute limit on speakers in an attempt to keep things sensible. It was good medicine, but no antidote.
Fast forward to 2022, council began Nov. 28 with an in-camera meeting at 3:30 p.m., followed by a council-in-committee meeting at 4:45 p.m., a land-use meeting at 5:15 p.m., then a public hearing/regular council meeting that started at 7 o’clock. At about 12:30 a.m., Mayor Brenda Locke asked city clerk Jennifer Ficocelli how many speakers were left to be heard.
Thirteen, she replied.
After the public hearing, the agenda continued with committee reports, board/commission reports, the mayor’s report, governmental reports, corporate reports, bylaws and permits, final adoptions, introductions, clerk’s report, notice of motion, other business and finally – gasp– adjournment.
Councillor Linda Annis got home at 3:15 a.m.
“I’m not at my best, and nor do I think anybody is at 2 o’clock in the morning, to be making decisions,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have it run so late.”
A bit of déjà vu here.
On July 26, 2021, Annis argued at 2:04 a.m. to have council put a cap on late night meetings, toward the end of a sitting that ran for more than 12 hours. That meeting, coincidentally, also ended at an ungodly 2:19 a.m. The Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council defeated her motion.
“First of all, in the development industry, developers, if we don’t get to their thing because we have to cut off, and they have to wait a whole week, that costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars,” then-mayor Doug McCallum reasoned.
Good old-fashioned brain-fog aside, “Decision Fatigue” is an added element of concern. The theory is, according to Medical News Today, that people’s ability to make decisions becomes worse “after making many decisions, as their brain will be more fatigued.”
“It can help some people to think of the decision making ability as a finite source, such as a battery,” an article on medicalnewstoday.com reports. “Each decision reduces the charge of the battery, and the person has less energy available to make other decisions later on.”
All of us make decisions from the minute we roll out of bed until our head hits the pillow, and often beyond that.
Surrey council members confront an excessive amount of decision making during these Monday (and sometimes early Tuesday) meetings, after having already put in a full day’s work.
It’s a Herculean, grueling workload. How do they do it? I don’t know. I wonder if even they know when they’ve made a mistake, when and if they make one.
“There’s only so much you can humanly do,” Locke concedes.
Author J.E.B. Spredemann offers a sobering thought.
“Choices made, whether bad or good, follow you forever and affect everyone in their path one way or another.”
The City of Surrey should find a way to rein in these exhausting, witching-hour council meeting marathons.
A solution probably shouldn’t be debated at 2 a.m., though.
So let it be done.