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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Speaking out, with new set of guidelines

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Shelbyville's city council debated Tuesday night about when and how to let the public have their say during meetings.

City manager Jay Johnson stated in a memo to council members last month that several had remarked informally about public comments on agenda items before the city council.

Study session

Johnson said he understood that in the past those with comments had been directed toward the city's more open, informal study sessions.

He wanted to know if the city council would like to hear comments during the regular council meeting, adding that Mayor Wallace Cartwright has already been generous in allowing speakers.

But the city manager said that the council's regular monthly meeting, held a week after their study session, "may be the better forum for public comment since the council agenda is published in the Times-Gazette as a matter of public record, and the actual decisions are made."

Many who have addressed the council in the past asked permission to speak before the study session and were put on the agenda. Public hearings will also continue to take place under the proposal.

Later decisions

Johnson said that if an item is introduced by a citizen, the council would not be able to address the issue at that meeting, and it would have to be either referred to city staff or addressed on the next council agenda.

"There would be none of this debating and making a decision right then," Johnson said.

However, councilman Warren Landers said that it had been unclear in the past when citizens can speak. He said that at times, a citizen would address the council on things they were not aware of and then a good discussion would take place, saying that the study session would be the best place to address them.

"I've got a problem with just hearing one side," Landers said. "I can't keep my mouth shut."

Negativity

Councilman Sam Meek said that sometimes the comments can become rather negative.

Council member Jo Ann Holland said that when addressed by citizens, it would "not be a good idea to respond to what they say right then."

"You could get into a conversation and say some things that you wish you had not said," she explained.

Johnson also suggested ground rules for the public wanting to comment on items, and asked that the mayor enforce them.

"I must emphasize this is not "Open Mic Night" at Shelbyville Bar and Grill," Johnson wrote in his memo. "While recognizing freedom of speech, these comments and statements should be relevant to City government."

Proposed rules

Ground rules for speakers, whether they take place during the study session or regular meeting, would be:

l Stepping to the front of the room.

l Giving their name and address.

l Addressing the council, not the audience.

l Limit the comment to three minutes.

Johnson also said that when he served as city manager in Franklin and Ponca City, Okla., they had an agenda item entitled "Citizen Comments."