A heated public backlash Monday night appeared to be the driving force behind the .
The new rules change the amount of time each speaker receives during the public comment periods before and after each meeting, reducing the amount of speaking time from five to three minutes with no maximum time restriction during the first period (previous rules called for a 30-minute cap on the first session) and changing the second speaking time from unlimited to two minutes.
The last rule change to the public comment period occurred four years ago in 2007. Before that, the rules were augmented in 2004.
Mayor Denis Law waived the new time restrictions during and overlooked the previous 30-minute cap to allow all 17 speakers to address Council during the first comment session. Eleven spoke about the public comment issue and one had left by the time their turn came at 8:22 p.m.
Bob Poitras, a 67-year Renton resident, expressed distain over the new rules.
“I don’t like the fact that you try to muzzle me,” he said before requesting Council to allow him to gift his speaking time to another person if they chose to keep the new rules.
John Joseph Pagor likened the new rules to today’s abbreviated social media communications.
“If this was regarding Twitter or texting, this might be an appropriate message. But regarding face-to-face time, it is totally inappropriate,” he said, adding a reminder that “In America, people are the government.”
Several council members also weighed in during the comment session for clarification, including Council President Rich Zwicker.
“I think I’m the one that started all this mess,” he said, offering further clarification: Theoretically, the Council decided to eliminate the 30 minutes first comment session cap and restrict comments to three minutes so everyone could talk before council conducted the business part of its meeting, he explained, adding that Council also chose to add the two-minute period at the end of each meeting.
“We’ve enhanced, in my opinion, we’ve greatly enhanced the public’s ability to address this administration,” Zwicker said.
Council member Terri Briere also sought to clear confusion over “misinterpretation over the second comment session.”
The Council’s goal, she said, was to encourage returning speakers to avoid redundancy by addressing council on a different topic if they chose to speak for a second time.
Beth Asher disagreed.
“Regarding repetitive comments, we the audience sit through those comments too,” she said, adding that rebuttals and repetitive comments are an effective way to let Council know what matters most to Renton denizens.
“Please don’t muzzle us,” she said.
Public Comment Details:
The Renton City Council voted 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).
Although this new proposal reduces the amount each speaker has at the dias, Robert's Rules allow Council members to approve additional time for speakers.
Public outcry over the new policy resulted in the Council’s decision to revisit the language in its policy and procedures regarding public comment. This will take place at a future Committee of the Whole meeting. Patch will update this story when a date has been set for the discussion.
What are your thoughts about the proposed changes to the City of Renton's public comment rules?