By Arnold M. Knightly, Editor
I was looking through the new City Council agenda when something caught my eye I hadn’t noticed before. Under the Public Comments item the following had been placed:
“No person shall address the City Council without first being recognized by the Mayor or the
Presiding Officer. All remarks shall be addressed to the City Council as a whole, not to
any individual member of the Council, of the audience, or of the City staff. After being
recognized by the Mayor or the Presiding Officer, each person shall come to the podium
and provide his/her name for the record. Each person has up to five minutes to speak on
a specific agenda item or to speak during Public Comment. The time limit may be
extended at the discretion of the Mayor or the Presiding Officer. All comments made
during the regular meeting on a specific agenda item must pertain to that agenda item. No
comments may be made on any other subject. Comments made during the Public
Comment period of the agenda may be on any subject. There shall be no personal attacks
against the Mayor, members of the City Council, the City staff, or any other individual. No
person, other than members of the City Council and the person who has the floor, shall be
permitted to enter into any discussion, either directly or through a member of the Council
without the permission of the Mayor or Presiding Officer. Questions to City Council
members or City staff may not be asked without being recognized by the Mayor or
Presiding Officer. Anyone wishing to submit exhibits on any City Council agenda item
should make every effort to provide the City Clerk with eight (8) copies of said exhibits in
advance of the meeting.”
I looked back through past agendas and found that it had only started appearing with the June 14 agenda for the City Council meeting.
The city’s efforts to prominently display public comment rules came after local attorney Tracy Strickland challenged the policy during the May 24 Council meeting.
Strickland, the husband of former City Councilwoman Linda Strickland, started by discussing the then-pending issue of electing a city attorney before being interrupted by Councilman Cam Walker asking the legality of discussing a ballot question that had yet to be voted on during public comment.
Tracy Strickland cited the city’s own public comment document saying he “could speak on any topic that deals with any issues with the city.”
Mayor Roger Tobler responded by stating that in the past he has not allowed discussion on actual candidates and that people have discussed ballot questions in the past, so he let Tracy Strickland continue.
After making his argument for electing a city attorney for nearly six minutes, Tobler informed Tracy Strickland that his time was up, to which Tracy Strickland responded, “There are no time limits in public comment.”
This started a back-and-forth between Tracy Strickland and Tobler, with the mayor stating it is the policy of the city to limit public comments to five minutes.
“You have to publish that,” Tracy Strickland said. “In fact, I think your city attorney would agree because it’s provided, you don’t have it in your agenda limiting public comment.”
Tobler said he would have the city attorney look into the issue, but admonished Tracy Strickland, who often attends Council meetings, for knowing “that we’ve always followed the five minute-rule.” Tobler added that five minutes have been the policy all eight years he’s been on the Council.
Before sitting down, Tracy Strickland responded, “Just because you’ve been doing it wrong all along doesn’t mean its right now.”
After a couple more exchanges Strickland relented and sat down, and now the policy is prominently posted. not hidden in backup materials.