Holiday dinners in my family have always been segmented by adults and kids. The adult table had fancy dishes and wine. The kids had the everyday dishes and milk.
As the oldest cousin, I was the first to be “promoted” to the adult table when a spot opened up. While I remember feeling happy about the big move, I soon realized it wasn’t as fun. Once, an older uncle, who must have reached the same conclusion, downgraded to be with the kids because he knew where to have a good time
The Edina Transportation Commission at the Adult Table
This past week, I was reminded of that experience during the Edina Transportation Commission Meeting (ETC). Eight meetings a year are held in a conference room. We all sit around a table and discuss transportation matters in a relaxed manner.
Four times a year, we move to the Council Chambers. The meeting is recorded so that it can later be broadcast via local cable access. Whenever we are in this room, it feels like the adult’s table. The chairs are cushy. The technology is fancy. But when it comes to meeting quality, I prefer the kid’s table.
The Chair was on vacation last week. As Vice Chair, it was my job to lead the meeting. While I’ve led thousands of meetings, this format was a first for me. I can’t say I liked it.
After I gaveled the meeting to order and asked for roll call, we were supposed to approve that night’s agenda. Another commissioner reminded me that I skipped that item. Oops. Must have been nerves from sitting at the adult’s table.
Seating Makes a Difference
Once we got into the first substantive issue, I noticed a problem with the seating arrangements. I like to be able to see all the meeting participants with a small glance or even with my peripheral vision. In this configuration all the participants were to my right and left. Seeing them meant swinging my head back and forth to scan the room. The visuals were almost as bad as they are on a conference call.
Also, some residents came to speak to the commission that evening. We are facing them, but per the instructions for leading a commission meeting we do not encourage back and forth dialogue. The residents make their comments to the commission, and then the commissioners discuss it without further interaction with the residents. I understand the reason for this, but it doesn’t fit my preferred style. There was a little back and forth anyway. I let it go because it seemed appropriate at the time.
Why all the Formality?
When the ETC is in the conference room, we tend to be fairly informal. When we are in the chambers and on camera, the formality goes way up. We refer to each other as “Commissioner LaForce” or “Madam Chair.” This has always felt strange to me.
Because I had the gavel in my hand for the perhaps the only time in this setting, I decided to follow a different practice. I’m an informal guy. I like to address people by their first names and prefer they address me in the same manner. I used first names that evening, with one exception. I addressed the residents by last name because I didn’t know them. As the meeting went on, I noticed others followed my lead. It would be interesting to know if anyone found the informality disrespectful. None was intended. I wanted to keep it friendly and comfortable.
Next month, it’s back to the kid’s table for us. I’m looking forward to it.
If you want to see what this looks like, here’s the video from our meeting—all 117 minutes of it. Enjoy.