Via e-mail from a reader:
The Albemarle City Council and the Albemarle Planning Board have a joint dinner meeting at a local restaurant to discuss business. At a later date the Albemarle Planning Board holds a public meeting and recommends action to the city. This may pass the open meetings law but I doubt many citizens show up
at a dinner meeting. Why does the City Council need a monthly dinner meeting with the Planning Board?
Before we begin to explore this, I want to encourage readers to take part in the discussion, and we'll use this thread as a meeting room. Leave the door open when you come in, as it has a bad habit of sticking there where the door casing has been painted over so many times. Did I carry that analogy too far? ;) Anyway, here's my take (as a newly-minted Planning Board member) on the question above:
This may be completely innocent, at least as far as intent. It may be nothing more than an excuse to get together at a favorite restaurant. If that is the case, then somebody needs to advise them of the ethical quandary they may have inadvertently raised. Here's the deal:
The City Council and the Planning Board are two separate entities for a reason. Several reasons actually, but the main one has to do with checks and balances. Looking at issues from two different angles, as it were. Granted, the City Council doesn't have to follow the recommendations of the Planning Board, which (in most cases) serves in merely an advisory capacity. But the citizens perceive their relationship to be at least semi-autonomous, and the Charter usually backs that up.
All that being said, there is very often an enormous amount of information involved in issues under review by the municipality, much of it required by state or local statutes and rules, and neither entity can do their jobs properly without it. So there must be a mechanism for the dissemination and/or sharing of that information, and for the proper consideration of questions that inevitably arise from a blizzard of paperwork that is riddled with techno-speak.
While it might seem, to the average person who isn't baked in the oven of public administration, that the best way to navigate this course is to get together en-masse and hash these things out, that actually defeats the purpose of having two separate entities. And it opens the door (even more) for influence-wielding by interested and determined parties.
I hope I've answered the "why" and provided a bonus "why you shouldn't" to the reader's message. But that is just my opinion, and if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time this week. ;)