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Changes likely for City Council speaker rules

Wednesday, November 2, 2022 by Jo Clifton

City Council has been operating under rules designed for a city living with a pandemic. Now that Covid rates have declined significantly, some Council members are thinking about how the rules for speakers addressing Council might be changed to allow better communication between citizens who want to weigh in on the meeting agendas and Council.

During Tuesday’s work session, it became clear that some members are more anxious for changes than others. Currently, community members are allowed to speak for one minute only, even if they are addressing two disparate items. Mayor Steve Adler noted that the city was trying to limit speaking time to one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. The effect of those rules is that a speaker may address an issue at 10:30 in the morning, followed by another speaker addressing an entirely different subject. Then the third speaker will talk about something else on the agenda. In the afternoon, the same is true only for zoning cases. So Council members may not remember everything they heard when it is time to vote and speakers will not necessarily be in the chambers when Council votes on their issue.

Still, Adler seemed disinclined to change the rules on his watch, saying the new Council can make changes in January. Council Member Chito Vela agreed with the mayor.

Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter noted that last week’s agenda included approval of new stormwater regulations as well as an item related to “offsets” to new requirements for developments that might impact affordability. Alter said she would like to give people an opportunity to address both items without forcing them to dedicate 30 seconds to each item.

She reminded her colleagues that, in the past, people speaking on one subject were able to donate their time to another speaker. So, rather than 20 people speaking for one minute, she said Council could hear from a smaller number of speakers who could “provide a coherent and clear argument.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo agreed with Alter and said she would support adjusting the rules right now.

“At a minimum I would echo Mayor Pro Tem Alter’s point that if a speaker is speaking on two items … they would get the minimum amount of time for each,” she said.

She said she would like the Law Department to weigh in on whether a person who signs up to speak under a false name must be allowed to speak. Adler said he had checked with the legal staff and they said it was not illegal, but that those people could be prevented from speaking.

Council Member Leslie Pool supported allowing people to speak on more than one item with further time. She added, “I’m concerned with large numbers of people coming in that would have us here until 3 or 4 in the morning,” indicating that she agreed with the mayor about making major changes.

Council Member Ann Kitchen said she was particularly interested in facilitating public input on the Brodie Oaks PUD, which is in her district, as well as the Statesman PUD, which has only been approved on first reading.

Council is scheduled to take a second vote on the Statesman PUD on Thursday. Council approved the development on first reading in April. The hearing on the vehicle for financing much of the project, which is known as tax increment reinvestment zone No. 19 for the South Central Waterfront, is expected to be held Dec. 1.

The Brodie Oaks development is also expected to have its first hearing at Council on Dec. 1. Kitchen said it was most important to her for those items to be set at a definite time, so that anyone wanting to observe or speak on those issues would not be forced to come to Council before that time.

Adler said he would be open to setting a definite time for those items when the dates for the meetings got closer. Other changes may not happen until January when there will be a new mayor and at least three new Council members.

The Save Our Springs Alliance has already sent emails notifying people that they should sign up to oppose the Statesman PUD zoning on Thursday. That item is on the 2 p.m. zoning agenda.

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