Consent Calendar or Executive Order?

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Letter to the Editor

By Sandra White of Hayden, Idaho

Imagine if you will, a governmental board where the head has a tool at his disposal where he could instantly pass anything he wants simply by putting it on the agenda. The item could be a bill, a contract, an appointment. This tool forces all of the board members to allow that item to pass without discussion, dissent, or consideration. This tool causes every decision held within it to bypass any kind of test of transparency.

Well, imagine no more. This tool exists in the form of the consent calendar or consent agenda. If your city council or board has a consent calendar, then it could be possible that your governing officials have their hands tied on some of the issues that come before them. By something simply being put on the consent calendar, it is guaranteed to pass.

How can you tell if your board has a dysfunctional consent calendar?
Here are two tests. Both need to be present at all times:

  1. Can an item be removed from the consent calendar at the request of any one member and be relocated somewhere else on the agenda with just a simple request?
  2. Does the consent calendar require unanimous consent?

If those two protections are not in place, then you can be sure that the top decision maker who places items in the consent calendar has more power than they should.

One way to keep your elected officials accountable and working for you is to be assured that the consent calendar is simply used as a time saver and not as a rubber stamp. A consent calendar done badly is not good governance, to say the least.

If you suspect that your board or commission has an “executive order” consent calendar, then be sure and speak up, write to them, make public comment, and write editorials to help bring about change and more transparency.