Little Falls City Council Member Loren Boyum brought some thoughtful comments to a recent meeting about how to handle public comments at meetings unrelated to the Council’s written agenda.
We understand the concern because sometimes a few citizens’ personal agendas can disrupt the Council, causing it to take longer than necessary to conduct the business at hand.
The Council has been wrestling with this issue for some time, and has put time limits on how long any individual can speak, then modified the time limits, then changed the timing for public comments unrelated to the written agenda, etc.
Boyum’s suggestion is to eliminate the public comment period entirely. However, we think that goes too far. About the time the Council thinks that nothing relevant will ever come out of the public comments, somebody will show up with information about a park or sidewalk or a city employee that the Council needs to hear.
Granted, there are a number of ways to approach a Council member. It doesn’t have to be at a public meeting. It can be by phone, telephone or email.
While those who are politically active understand that, others in the community don’t and think if they want the Council to know something, they ought to show up at a meeting. The Council needs to accommodate them.
That said, we recommend moving the public comment session to the very end of the regular Council meeting. Limit the period to up to 15 minutes total and allow up to five different speakers up to three minutes each. Have a sign-up sheet at the meeting, first come, first served.
At the beginning of the public comments, tell those present if the sign-up sheet is full that they are welcome to approach Council members individually after the meeting.
That way, speakers will have to wait while the Council works on the priority matters on the agenda. Nobody has to attend the entire meeting, but those that want to make a public comment will take their chances on being among the first five to sign up. If they aren’t present when their name is called, the Council has no obligation to wait for them to return
Fifteen minutes of comments won’t kill the Council, and will demonstrate it is open to new information and varying viewpoints.