The public comment period at Renton City Council meeting may change in the near future if Council members approve a set of proposed changes aimed at streamlining the meetings.
Council members discussed the changes at Monday night’s Committee of the Whole, where they decided to nix an original proposal of a single public comment period at the beginning of each meeting with a limit of three minutes per speaker and a maximum 30-minute limit for public comment.
Currently there are two public comment periods available; one at the beginning of the meeting with a five-minute limit for each speaker (and a maximum commenting period of 30 minutes), and a second commenting period at the end of the meeting with no time limit.
After a lengthy discussion, Council members modified the proposal to include a public comment period at the end of the meetings with a two-minute limit per speaker and no limit on the final commenting session.
Mayor Denis Law said the second comment period was originally established because of the 30-minute limit on the first comment period. Comment rarely runs over the half-hour allotment, and when it does Council members frequently vote to extend the comment window until everyone who signed up to speak gets time at the dias.
“We didn’t anticipate that we’d have some of the same people basically stand up and repeat the same information,” said City Administrator Jay Covington, who moderated the discussion.
The decision to change the commenting policy came about after some speakers — who remained nameless during the meeting — abused the second public comment window by repeating the same information or by using it as personal “soapbox.”
“I don’t anticipate that there would be a lot of people who would be frustrated for lack of time,” he said. “In fact they may do a better job of formulating their thoughts."
Most Cities limit public comments to three minutes or less, said Council President Rich Zwicker, who did an informal survey of other city public comment policies.
Council member Greg Taylor expressed concern that the reduced time may make City government even more inaccessible.
“Our goal should be to hear more, not be more efficient,” he said, adding that the new limitations may inhibit the opportunity for a citizen to fully express themselves to the Council.
But Council members Terri Briere and Don Persson noted that most speakers don’t use their full five minutes.
In the case of a contentious issue, the shorter comment limit may allow more speakers the chance to address council.
“I think it’d be better to get everybody up front so they can speak before we make the decision,” Persson said.
The proposed changes would limit each speaker's public comment at the beginning of the meeting to three minutes with no limit on the number of speakers. The second public comment period would also remain at the end of the meetings with a two-minute limit.
Council will vote on the changes at the August 6 City Council meeting.
Public Comment Details:
The Renton City Council will vote to change the amount of time given to each speaker for public comment from five to three minutes during the first commenting session at the beginning of each meeting with no time limit for all speakers, and to enact a two-minute time limit to comments at the end of the meetings (this public comment period previously had no time limit).
Althought this new proposal reduces the amount each speaker has at the dias, Robert's Rules allow Council members to approve additional time for speakers.
What are your thoughts about the proposed changes to the City of Renton's public comment rules?
Editor's Note: City of Renton staff is still preparing the revised recommendation, but it will include no time limit on the first audience comment, as previously reported. Patch regrets the confusion. The recommendation is expected to appear as an agenda bill under the Consent Agenda.