By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
A change in the public forum during the Little Falls City Council has once again been proposed. This portion of the meeting has been moved to several different slots on the agenda, currently at the beginning of the Council’s work session.
Recently, the time period was set at three minutes instead of five, with a request that speakers frame their comments around items that fall within the authority of the City Council.
During its May 5 meeting, Council Member Loren Boyum asked to make further changes.
“I intend to come back with some way to address this to allow us to better utilize our time for items that affect the city for the Council to consider,” Boyum said.
Boyum provided a list of suggestions to the Council, Monday.
“I feel that we should act upon that and I believe that this simply can reserve the public input necessary and appropriate, but allow our meetings to operate in a much better way,” he said.
Boyum passed out an outline of a discussion of a public comment period held at a League of Minnesota Cities conference.
“It seems that this is a common concern for many cities and townships in the state, with many eliminating or changing how it might occur,” Boyum’s outline said of public comment periods. “It is very important that the Council encourage relevant input from the community, and I do not recommend that it be totally eliminated. However, there has to be a more effective method than what has been utilized up to now.”
The League stressed, Boyum’s outline said, that Council members have been elected to transact all business related to the welfare of the city and it is their responsibility to do so in a manner they believe is most efficient.
He listed several points made at the LMC conference, including: 1) A council meeting is open to the public, but is not a public meeting. Robert’s Rules may or may not be incorporated and to varying degrees. 2) There is no requirement for public input, with the exception of a public hearing. 3) No member of the audience has an inherent right to participate, unless they are recognized by the council president and there is no requirement that they be recognized. 4) Any non-official recording device may be relegated to a specific location in the room as determined by the Council.
As a result of the conference, Boyum recommended the public forum now held at the beginning of the Council’s work session, be eliminated. However, he recommended that the Council be certain that legitimate constituent concerns be able to be addressed and listed several ways to do so.
These included personal contacts by phone, visits, emails, etc.; or by contacting City Hall with concerns by Wednesday before a scheduled meeting to be included in the Council’s packets and then those concerns be considered at the end of the meeting, under a “Constituent Concerns” section. He noted any concern presented in a form longer than one – two pages, be kept at City Hall and a notation made in the packet that it is available for the Council’s perusal, rather than involve extensive copying.
“If there is a concern, for instance a guy came to the meeting two weeks ago and mentioned some concerns about lawn workers and chemicals and stuff. Quite frankly I forgot the guy’s name and I didn’t really have a record of specifically what he was concerned about,” said Boyum. “By doing it this way, we get the name and topic of each of the concerns, a written record. I can call him and work with it independently and with the Council.”
It’s also a case in which it does not eliminate citizens contacting council members, he said. “They can call, email and contact us through City Hall with a written record.”
Boyum said the time at the end of the meeting would be used to consider concerns.
“It’s a more orderly process. We would a have a written record and we can follow up more effectively to see that something is done,” he said.
“The way the public forum is set up right now, we give them three minutes, which is good. We ask them to address things that pertain to the council agenda in the meetings. The honorable thing is if the people would actually do it,” said Council Member Frank Gosiak. “We don’t have to have a public forum and that doesn’t mean we’re trying to be mean to somebody and take their rights away. We’re here about business, that’s why we’re here first and foremost.”
Alderman at Large Brian-Paul Crowder said he had a concern with eliminating the public forum, pointing to a concern brought up about dust stirred by a landscaping company.
“What a great forum for someone to come in at the last minute with a concern and be able to address an issue,” he said. “It’s a useful tool for our community. I would hate to see that go and not be on the agenda, because maybe of just one issue we’re having.”
Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said the public is definitely encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions with their council people.
Council Member Zylka said he had six or so constituent complaints he had to bring up. He liked the idea of encouraging residents to talk to council members, call and talk to them.
“I like this as a whole,” he said of Boyum’s outline. “I’m not saying I’m willing to jump in and say, ‘Let’s get rid of it (public forum).’”
Zylka said he agreed with the four points made about a meeting being run by the president, open to the public, but not a public meeting and Robert’s Rules of Order not being the letter of the law.
“It will be interesting to see what the public will say,” he said.