The city council has approved additional rules regulating the public comments portions of their meetings. Comments must be limited to topics on the agenda or general subjects related to the operations of the city.
The council previously voted to limit comments to three minutes per speaker or group and to require commenters to fill out a card ahead of the meeting indicating the subject on which they would like to speak. An additional rules change also allows the mayor to make changes to the order of business: Mayor Bill Baird moved the public comments agenda item later in the council’s regular sessions so that public hearings and presentations could be heard earlier.
Council meetings have sometimes lasted several hours, continuing on late into the evening and even approaching midnight. In several of these cases, lengthy public comments and public hearings have drawn the meetings out.
The council has also had several instances of residents speaking at length about issues of national or international significance, with topics straying far from matters relevant to the city council’s purview.
Councilmember Trish Carlyle offered some context for why the rules committee had recommended the ordinance for council approval, noting that it had taken the committee several meetings to agree on the direction they wanted to take. She said that the committee wanted to ensure residents have fair opportunities to voice their concerns and speak before the council, but that they also wanted to work to keep the meetings on task.
Baird and other councilmembers voiced their support of free speech rights and promoting an open dialog with residents, suggesting that they struggled philosophically with imposing such limits while wanting to hold efficient meetings.
Councilmember Bob Johnson reminded the council that many publicly elected bodies do not allow public discussion: the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate, for instance, do not allow public comments on the floor.
Councilmember Rob Binney expressed dismay that the rules have continued to be changed regarding public comments. He suggested that these issues should have been addressed with updates to the city’s charter, allowing for public consideration of the changes, and said that he didn’t want to keep anyone from the opportunity to speak, even if some are abusing the time.
Councilmember Craig Faith suggested that the change was inspiring him to be more available to his constituents, to hear their concerns and thoughts personally rather than in a public forum.
“It increases my resolve to be more open for the public to talk to me directly,” Faith said.
The ordinance passed with only Binney voting against. Councilmembers Phyllis Edson and Diane Forte were absent from the Dec. 4 meeting.