LUBBOCK, Texas — Lubbock City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to change its standard meeting time to 2:00 p.m.

The city argues the current meeting time of 4:30 p.m. burdens the staff and costs overtime pay.

“What we’ve done is we’ve put our staff in a position where they’re here until 7, 8 o’clock, or until midnight, and we typically don’t have any citizens here to hear what they have to say,” Mayor Tray Payne said.

Citizens speaking on the resolution raised concerns over transparency and accessibility, worrying an earlier meeting time will exclude residents who work during the day.

“If we were going to change the time it should be later,” Communications Chair of Lubbock Compact and former mayoral candidate Adam Hernandez said. “Tray, on the campaign trail quite a lot, you talked about citizen engagement and you talked about transparency.”

Hernandez also said, “Should the people trust a mayor who is moving like this? I consider you to move a different way and go back to what you were talking about on the campaign trail and include the citizens from the very beginning.”

Resident Josh Shingles said, “I hope that I am mistaken and that this council’s intent is to honor their word and create a meeting and work schedule that would facilitate engagement of teachers, food service workers, caregivers, blue-collar laborers, and the rest of our neighbors that require the access to them the most.”

The council has met every other Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. since January 2019. A resolution on the June 28 consent agenda was set to change it. Consent agenda items are passed under unanimous consent without discussion or formal vote.

Residents also criticized the placement of this change on the consent agenda under language they considered vague.

Mayor Payne pushed back on that criticism, explaining this measure has been on previous agendas that were not met with public comments.

“We did not have to put this on tonight’s agenda. We could have just made this happen because that’s how the rules allow it. So if we’re trying to be underhanded or shady or whatever other words people want to use – not transparent – then we could have just said meetings are at 2:00 o’clock. But we didn’t do that. We had an open hearing about it, we discussed it openly, and then we came back today to say this is an idea.”

Following public criticism from five residents, Mayor Payne moved to table votes on the consent agenda. The measure ultimately passed as the last item of the day just after 7:30 p.m. — a relatively late adjournment that council members hope to avoid in the future, while still stressing the value they place on citizen engagement.

“We are available by email, by mail, personal meeting,” District 5 Councilwoman Jennifer Wilson said. “I have met people at Market Street. I’ve gone out to citizens’ houses. That’s where I engage with my voters from my district who have concerns, not at this podium. I want them to come up here to make comments, but we can make change in other places.”

Wilson also said, “If this change is not for the betterment of the city and the citizens aren’t happy, we always look at change.”

“I’ve only been on the council about a month, and my email fills up every day with comments,” District 3 Councilman Mark McBrayer said. “I would love to see more people participate, but we’ve got to try some different methods, different times.”

“In COVID, we saw other opportunities of engaging the public,” District 1 Councilwoman Christy Martinez-Garcia said. “We also allow citizens to have comment time by email. These folks, as employees, have been here since 8:00 a.m. And these are our highest-paid staff members that can be doing very good work conducting city business during business hours. I’m sure they would love to be having dinner with their family.”

“You will not make everybody happy, I don’t care what you do,” District 6 Councilwoman Latrelle Joy said. “I do want our citizens to have the opportunity to speak with us when they need to, and they don’t need to every time.”

“I hear your concerns. The last thing I would ever support is something that would decrease access to your city government,” District 2 councilman Steve Massengale said. “If 2:00 pm doesn’t work, maybe an 8:00 am one time a month and a later meeting another time of the month works. Maybe you can make everybody happy with that. But there are a lot of ways to access us.”

“We have an opportunity to see if this makes a difference,” Mayor Payne concluded. “And if it doesn’t, I’ll give it to you and go ‘alright, let’s go back.'”