Worried that lengthy meetings are "undermining public confidence" in the political process, Palo Alto's mayor and two City Council members have called for possible mandatory limits on council members' speaking time.
If council members do not voluntarily shorten their questions and comments, "mandatory provisions to limit Council questions and debate time" should be considered at a mid-2013 retreat, Mayor Greg Scharff and council members Larry Klein and Gail Price said in a memo to colleagues.
The average length of council meetings -- held almost weekly -- crept up from about four-and-a-half hours in 2008 through 2011 to five hours in 2012.
Last year, 37 Council meetings started before 6 p.m., 27 meetings ended past 11 p.m. and nine meetings went past midnight.
"We believe that these numbers show a disturbing trend," the three said.
"In 2012 we spent 66 more hours in meetings than we did in 2008, a 34 percent increase....
"We acknowledge that there may be many reasons for longer meetings: more extensive reports and more discussions from the public, for example. But the one variable we have direct control over is the time we spend as Council members asking questions and discussing issues.
"We risk undermining public confidence in our processes if we can't get this problem under control."
For starters, the three suggested, the council should spend an hour discussing the problem of meeting length at a retreat coming up Feb. 2.