Streamlining Meetings Through the Consent Agenda
Governing bodies adopt many tools to help add structure to a meeting agenda to keep members focused on the task at hand or to streamline processes. This blog discusses one of those tools — the consent agenda — and how some local governments in Washington are currently using it.
What Is a Consent Agenda?
A consent agenda is a section on the meeting agenda that groups routine, noncontroversial topics into a single agenda item that can be discussed and passed with a single motion and vote. Generally, no debate is allowed on items included in the consent agenda, but a member of the governing body can always request that a specific item be moved to the full meeting agenda for individual attention.
The Washington Municipal Clerks Association (WCMA) Handbook 2.08.040 notes that items typically found on a consent agenda include:
- Program, department, or committee reports or minutes,
- Correspondence requiring no action,
- Updates or background reports (for informational purposes only),
- Appointments requiring confirmation by the governing body,
- Approval of contracts that fall within the agency’s policy guidelines,
- Final approval of proposals that have been thoroughly discussed previously, where the governing body is comfortable with the implications,
- Confirmation of pro forma items or actions that need no discussion but are required by the bylaws, and
- Dates of future meetings.
What Is the Process for Using a Consent Agenda?
In order to use a consent agenda, the governing body may choose to adopt the use of this tool in its rules of procedure or by adopting as the ‘consent agenda’ provision of Robert’s Rules of Order, found under Order of Business. The rules in the local procedures may include a policy about what may and may not be included on the consent agenda or the governing body may leave that decision to the discretion of the persons preparing the agenda.
Each local government agency has one or more persons who prepare the regular meeting agenda and can determine which items to include in the consent portion of a meeting. See Setting the Agenda: Less Control, More Cooperation for more on creating meeting agendas.
When the consent agenda item is before the governing body during a meeting, the presiding officer should ask members if anyone wants to remove any items listed on the consent agenda. Most agencies will remove an item from the consent agenda if any one of the members wishes an item to be removed. A formal vote would not be necessary to remove an item unless the agency’s rules require one.
Once any requested items are removed from the consent agenda, then the governing body votes to approve the entire consent agenda as a single item.
How Do Washington Local Governments Use Consent Agendas?
WMCA surveyed its members (municipal clerks) in December 2020 regarding use of consent agendas. They received 94 responses, including clerks with cities, towns, counties, transit agencies, a public utility district, and a library district. Of these responses, 90% used a consent agenda, noting that it streamlines meetings and promotes efficiency.
Responding members represented municipalities with populations ranging from 415 to 750,000, and everything in between. Additionally, the type of agency using a consent agenda was also varied, ranging from mayor/council-run cities, council/manager-run cities, commission-led counties, and board-led special purpose districts.
WMCA members provided a wide variety of responses on content they typically have on a consent agenda. In terms of the number of items typically included:
- 38% of respondents said 5 to 9 items,
- 33% of respondents said 4 or less items, and
- 17% of respondents said 10 or more items.
The types of items included on a consent agenda ranged from final plats (2%) to checks (65%). The table below shows a list of all items noted by respondents.
|Item included on a consent agenda
|Percent of respondents including this item
|Approval of surplus property
|Public works warranty deeds
|Advisory board appointments
|Acceptance of certain public works projects
|Choosing dates for public hearings & appeals
|Routine items vetted by committee and/or governing body has previously discussed
|Bid awards, and budgeted contracts
Tips from Local Agencies
Through the survey, WMCA members also offered the following tips to agencies considering adopting the use of a consent agenda:
- Poll other jurisdictions of your same size and type to see how they use it, and
- Know the comfort level of your elected officials in using such a tool.
Once an agency has adopted use of a consent agenda, WMCA members advise that an agency should:
- Include the agenda approval process in your governing body’s rules of procedures,
- Be consistent on the kind of items placed on the agenda, and
- Ensure all members know that any item can be removed from a consent agenda for separate action.
It should also be noted that all documentation associated with consent items must be provided to meeting participants before the meeting, and these participants must review the documentation in advance in order to make an informed vote on all grouped items.
For More Information
Here are additional resources from MRSC.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.