Council check-ins

When it comes to our local government, Xpress readers sometimes ask: “WTF?”

We’re interpreting the acronym in a more family-friendly manner. Want the Facts?

In our debut WTF feature, Xpress looks into Asheville City Council check-ins to answer some of the biggest questions about the little-known practice that was cast into the spotlight in late January after Council members were found to have discussed a controversial food distribution ordinance during so-called “check-in” meetings.

What is a check-in?

A check-in is a meeting of three or fewer Council members — usually the mayor and two others —  to discuss policy and ask questions of city staff. Unlike in regular meetings, members do not take votes, but they can issue informal directions to staff and seek further research on new ideas.  Check-ins typically occur twice a month on the Thursday before each regularly scheduled Council meeting (which usually take place the second and fourth Tuesday of each month starting at 5 p.m.)

What is a check-in not?

Check-ins differ from other types of meetings Council holds besides regular sessions. Work sessions, for example, are public meetings to discuss specific issues in which all seven members participate. Council will hold its next work session, focused on planning the city budget, at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 22.

Council also engages in closed session meetings, which involve all seven members but exclude the public. These are called when Council must discuss certain confidential matters, such as ongoing lawsuits, economic development deals or complaints by city employees.

Are check-ins legal?

Yes. Like all public bodies in North Carolina, City Council is required to follow the state’s Open Meetings Law, found in Chapter 143, Article 33C of the N.C. General Statutes. The law requires that whenever a majority of a government body’s members — also called a quorum — convene and discuss issues related to their work, that the meeting must be open to the public.

Because Council consists of seven members, a quorum consists of four. That means three-member meetings such as check-ins don’t have to be announced or open to members of the public. 

Council generally holds sets of three check-ins, each with different members, so staff can share the same information without creating a majority that would require an open meeting. (Meetings composed entirely of government staff held in the normal course of work are not subject to open meetings law.)

Although meeting materials from Council check-ins aren’t automatically made available on the city’s website, they are considered public records. Members of the public can obtain the documents by submitting a public records request with the city

What does Buncombe County do?

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman says that the county used to employ a similar check-in process but discontinued the practice years ago. Commissioners replaced the check-ins with public briefing meetings, which are usually held at 3 p.m. prior to the board’s 5 p.m. regular meetings on the first and third Tuesday of each month. 

As with Council check-ins, no votes are taken at the county’s briefing meetings, and the intent is to preview issues for future board meetings. Briefings are open to the public, and meeting materials are made available in advance. 

While board members do meet in smaller groups on occasion to discuss specific issues, Newman says, he supports the use of briefings in most circumstances. “First, it makes the process more open. Second, all the commissioners get to hear the same information at the same time. Third, it reduces the need for so many separate meetings,” he tells Xpress

What’s next for Asheville?

Mayor Esther Manheimer says Council members may take up the issue of check-ins during their regular Council meeting of Feb. 22. 

“In talking with other mayors, it’s clear that check-ins, work sessions and closed meetings, where legally required, are all utilized in other cities,” Manheimer says. “But, one thing somewhat unique to Asheville is the use of Council subcommittees, which meet publicly, to review items coming to Council. This is not a format used in most cities and provides greater transparency and opportunity for the public to hear and weigh in on matters before they reach the full Council.”


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4 thoughts on “Council check-ins

  1. Taxpayer

    It’s easy. Just be transparent, don’t hide your opinions or votes and try to do the right thing. Everyone from the mayor to the city manager, and especially the city manager, are so damn shady. And using consultants to contrive the outcomes of whatever they want is their shadiest move of all. Just stop!

  2. Bright

    This has been the theme of Asheville…don’t tell them “to just stop.” They need the money more than we taxpayers do. Quite embarrassing living in such a backward city.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      lol, but they claim to be SO progressive ! not. they are a miserable bunch following decades of elected democrackkk NON leaders.

      We need major support for the four men running for mayor and council now for the May primary! If all four are elected we can effect some real change in AVL !!!

      Please support these guys who are working hard for change !!! Please donate to this campaign if you possibly can !!!

  3. rwd

    Calling it a check-in even sounds shady !! One good thing is there can be no voting or anything passed…except a lot of gas !!

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