Redding council tries for compromise on public comment

It’s not easy for public agencies to balance the need to get things done in a timely fashion and the need to give the public adequate time to address issues. In an attempt to satisfy everyone, the Redding City Council voted to adopt a 30 minute public comment period on items not on the agenda at the start of council meetings then allow unlimited comment at the end of the meeting. -DB

Redding Record Searchlight
May 21, 2009
By Scott Mobley

Have something to tell the Redding City Council about an issue not on the evening’s agenda?

You might have to sit through the whole meeting before you get your three minutes at the microphone, if you’re one of many with a burning desire to speak.
The council this week voted 4-1 to limit the public comment period on non-agendized issues to 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting.

Speakers who don’t get to say their piece during that initial half-hour may address the council at the end of the meeting, when there would be no time limit.

City Manager Kurt Starman called the 30-minute limit a “reasonable compromise” between encouraging broader public participation in government and taking care of business.

Most council members liked the compromise idea.

“I’m one of those who thinks we ought to give equal consideration to those who want to speak and to everyone who wants to speak,” council member Dick Dickerson said. “But we ought to give equal consideration to those who come to speak on an agendized item. Agendized items are the business of the city and the business of the people of the city.”

Vice Mayor Patrick Jones, who cast the lone vote against the 30-minute comment period at the beginning of the meeting, said he thought the new policy “may be a step backwards.”

“I think every issue is important whether it is agendized or not,” Jones said.

Redding has long limited individual speakers to three minutes, but never imposed a cut-off for public comment in general.

The council in 2006 moved the public comment period from the end to the beginning of the meeting hoping for more participation. The League of Women Voters and others had asked for the change, arguing that people would be more likely to raise issues to the council if they did not have to sit through the entire meeting first.

Typically, only a few speakers have addressed the council on issues not scheduled for discussion at any given meeting. The public comment periods have rarely lasted more than 15 or 20 minutes.

But at several recent meetings, public comment has gone for more than an hour with multiple speakers addressing different topics. So people coming to a meeting for a scheduled topic have had to wait for hours before their issues come up for discussion.

Even before the council voted on the public comment policy change Tuesday, Mayor Rick Bosetti asked a large group of people opposing a proposed Transmission Agency of Northern California (TANC) power line to wait until meeting’s end.

Nearly two-dozen people opposing the TANC power line and urging Redding to cut ties to the project spoke for more than an hour, or nearly to 11 p.m. Tuesday.
Public comment in other cities

Public agencies in California allow public comment on off-agenda items under the Brown Act. But they differ on when the public may speak, and for how long. Here’s a sample:

Berkeley: 10 minutes at beginning of meeting; unlimited time at end of meeting.

Chico: Unlimited time at end of meeting.

Davis: 30 minutes at beginning of meeting; unlimited time at end of meeting.

Fairfield: Unlimited time near beginning of meeting.

Vacaville: Unlimited time near beginning of meeting.

Woodland: Unlimited time near beginning of meeting.

Copyright 2009 the E.W. Scripps Co.