Council Guide: Part III: Council Meetings

The Council meets five times a year, usually in March, April, June, September, and October or November. Most Council meetings take six days, with individual advisory body meetings occurring during the course of the week. Advisory bodies also meet at various times between Council meetings. All meetings are open to the public, except for a short closed Council session in which the Council deals with personnel and litigation issues. Summary minutes are taken for each Council meeting and are posted on the website. Meetings are usually held in large cities where there is adequate meeting space and airport connections. Some basic facts about the Council meeting process are provided in the fact sheet Council Meetings 101.

Briefing Books

Council members and Council staff receive a copy of an advance Briefing Book. The Briefing Book contains agenda item summaries, reports and materials for each agenda item, and written public comment. Because of the size of the Briefing Book and the effort required to create it, printed Briefing Books are not available to the general public. However, Briefing Book materials are available on the Council website, usually as PDF files, two weeks prior to Council meetings. Briefing Books are also available on CD by request.

There are two Briefing Book public comment deadlines. The first (and main) public comment deadline is two and a half weeks before the Council meeting. Public comments and reports that are supplied before this deadline are included in the advance Briefing Book. The second deadline, known as the “supplemental” public comment deadline, is usually at close of business on the Tuesday before the start of the Council meeting (although, due to holidays and other factors, the day may vary). Public comments and reports provided by this deadline are given to Council members on the first day of the Council meeting. Comments can be emailed, mailed, or faxed to the Council.

Handouts

During Council meetings, all materials included in the Briefing Book, the supplemental material provided to Council members, and all reports, handouts, and statements generated at Council meetings are available on a table located in the hall outside the Council room, or in the back of the meeting room. A label in the upper right-hand corner of the handouts explains where they fit in the agenda.

Agendas and Agenda Items

The Council works off an agenda which is drafted at the previous Council meeting. Agendas are posted on the Council’s website, sent to a large mailing list, and provided at Council meetings.

The contents of the agenda are set by the Council itself, working in concert with Council staff. To have something placed on the agenda, talk to the Executive Director, Chair, or an individual Council member; suggest the agenda item during an advisory body meeting; or suggest the agenda item during the public comment period when the agenda is finalized. Draft agendas for the next Council meeting are usually discussed on the last day of the Council meeting. During the weeks following the meeting, the agenda is finalized by staff.

Each agenda item has several parts. First, a staff officer usually gives an overview of what to expect during the agenda item, based on the situation summary provided in the Briefing Book. This may be followed by presentations or discussion of the particular topic, by advisory body comments or reports, and by public comment. Finally, the Council discusses the topic and may vote on it.

Robert’s Rules of Order

The Council meeting process follows Robert’s Rules of Order, rules for parliamentary procedure that were first developed in 1876. A “parliamentarian” sits next to the Council Chair to ensure Robert’s Rules are followed.

Motions

During discussion, voting Council members may make a motion to take action. A Council member must second the motion before the Council votes on it. (Note: not all Council members are voting members. Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Coast Guard, State Department, and Alaska do not vote.)

The Secretariat

The “Secretariat” is an office created at a Council meeting where advisory body reports are processed and administrative work is conducted. It is usually located near the Council chamber. The purpose of the Secretariat is to receive reports from advisory bodies and Council staff to be formally entered into the administrative record, formatted, copied, and handed out to the Council during their proceedings. The Secretariat provides computers for advisory body members and staff to use in writing their reports, and copy machines to produce copies of the reports for use by the Council and advisory bodies. Photocopiers are not available to the public. However, public comment provided to the Secretariat will be formally entered into the administrative record and handed out to the Council when appropriate. The Secretariat does not have email or fax capabilities at this time, and the telephone is for use by staff only.

Public Comment

Public comment is invited for nearly every item on the Council’s agenda (the only exceptions are for “closed session”, when the Council deals with personnel and litigation issues). You can sign up to give public comment any time before the public comment period for the agenda item begins. Go to the staffed desk at the entrance of the Council room and fill out a card with your name, the agenda item you wish to comment on, and your affiliation. Council staff will give this card to the Chair before the public comment period. When your name is called, go to the table that sits before the Council, introduce yourself, and give your testimony. Because of time constraints, public comment is limited to five minutes for individuals and ten minutes for representatives of groups. For more tips, see the information page “Sample Letter & Testimony.”