Wednesday, April 17, 2024

In plain sight: Consent agendas sometimes have lasting impacts on community, but are rarely discussed

It's often routine business, but it is still public business. But staff vetting often means these items do not get discussed in public meetings

WILMINGTON—Every month local leaders make decisions that will have impacts on the residents of their communities. Sometimes this is done through a public process that warrants public hearings, while other times items receive the green light without so much as a discussion thanks to an item called a consent agenda.

Consent agendas are routine items in the Cape Fear region. Most governing boards, like the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners or the City of Wilmington’s City Council, will have a consent agenda during every board or commission meeting.

Consent agendas are technically public since they are placed on the board’s regular agenda. What makes consent agendas different than other items on the full agenda is the fact local leaders do not discuss the items placed on it.

The consent agenda is also a tool that can be used to approve multiple items at one time, but what exactly can go on a consent agenda?

“Typically, the matters on consent are those that have been fully vetted by staff (or commissioners) and are not in dispute, and do not require any further discussion,” New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White said. “For example, the items that the museum asks us to de-commission. Or, grants that various departments apply for that require commissioner approval, or proclamations that are routine.”

Consent agendas are a normal sight in local governmental meetings, and even though these items can be considered routine, their contents can still have huge impacts (Port City Daily photo/COURTESY WILMINGTON)


While items that would normally cause lots of debate among board members are typically not placed on consent agendas, these items could still cause debate among residents.

For example, in November 2017, Wilmington City Council approved a nearly $250,000 agreement to purchase 150 TASERs and accessories in a consent agenda.

According to New Hanover County Spokeswoman Jessica Loeper, there is no state statute that dictates what can be placed on consent agenda, but the county does have its own agenda policy that was adopted in 2008.

“New Hanover County Board of Commissioners’ agendas are created by the County Manager’s Office, as outlined in the county’s agenda policy. All agenda items, including consent agenda items, are public and are accompanied by supporting documents. Each meeting’s agenda is available for the public to review, and is discussed at a public agenda review meeting and then at the Board of Commissioners meeting. Typically, consent agenda items are routine, regular business, and not controversial, and any Commissioner can pull a consent item for more discussion,” Loeper said.

If any commissioner feels the need to discuss an item on a consent agenda, it can be removed and discussed further during a meeting.

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