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Small change for public comment

  • Written by Don Mann
Chuck Price said if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The question at hand was whether or not to allow public comments to be read into the record during the city council’s public comment period.

“I’m sure you’re all aware that we regularly exceed the (allotted) 15 minutes,” City Manager Richard Leahy told council members before they mulled over the proposed amendment.

Deputy Mayor Bob Vogt spoke first and he cut to the chase. “I move that the city council limit public comment to only those in attendance,” he said.

Let’s stick to the agenda, he said. “It gets us off track. I don’t see any need to add complexity to our meeting.”

The motion went without a second.

Councilmember Price, who, like Vogt, is running for re-election on November 3, had an entirely different take.“To me this is all about open government and public awareness,” he said. “If we passed such a motion it would be stifling to the public.

The best thing to ever happen to this council is when we televised these meetings. Before that the public had no idea what we approved or didn’t approve. If the council needs to read a letter about public concerns, we should read it.”

Price, a civil engineer seeking his third term on the council, pressed on.

“I’ve got a target on my forehead, too, but that’s fine,” he said. “I am so pleased at the level that our citizens are getting involved and I don’t want to do anything to show that we may stifle that. Thank God we didn’t have a second.”

Councilmember Don Brocha, who is not seeking re-election after 16 years on the dais, said the council had always allowed the practice of having a letter read by a third party during public comment.

“I think we should continue to do that but what I would like to do is have the mayor read it, since he’s the presiding officer,” he said.

“Is that a motion?” council member Liz Aspen asked.

Brocha said it was, but before it went to a vote Councilmember Hank Stecker — also not seeking re-election (after one term) — had something to say.

“If we want to streamline the meetings then we should stop bringing up topics like this,” he said. “I’ve been here four years and I’ve never seen any councilmember abuse the privilege of reading comments into the record.”

He said the practice occurs “once in a blue moon. It’s just more rules to control what goes on in this room.”

Vogt wanted to clarify he was not impeding free speech.

“I’m not trying to stifle public input,” he said. “It’s sometimes difficult just to get through the agenda every week.”

The motion to have only the mayor read written correspondence into the record passed by a 4-3 vote, with Price, Stecker and Councilmember Jeff Glickman saying nay.

Glickman then moved to allow members of the public to speak at any time during a city council meeting by first standing and then being acknowledged by the presiding officer.

The motion went without a second and died on the vine.

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