City Council votes to add decorum guidelines for citizen participation


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th). Fleming encouraged meeting chairs to explain the purpose of public comment to meeting attendees, clarifying what speakers should and should not expect during the public comment period.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen voted Monday to provide decorum guidelines for citizen participation during City Council, standing committees and ward meetings.

The guidelines state that anyone who uses “loud, threatening, personal or abusive language” during citizen comment could be barred from further participation during the meeting at the discretion of the mayor or presiding officer. The same rule will also apply to anyone who “disrupts, disturbs or otherwise impedes the orderly conduct of a meeting.”

The guidelines state that the mayor or presiding officer can try to provide a verbal warning to the speaker, but that a warning is not required for the speaker’s microphone to be turned off or for the speaker to be removed from the meeting.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) echoed other aldermen’s sentiments when she said the tone of citizen comment has changed over the past few years.

“We have had this issue where we have someone who’s been disruptive or disturbing, and the mayor has not had a tool to use,” Wynne said. “This is not going to be invoked very often, but I think it’s worth having.”

The resolution amends the City Council Rules about citizen participation, adding a new section dealing specifically with decorum guidelines. The current rules also provide guidelines for signing up for public comment, sending in a written comment and defining the length of public comment speaking times.

In addition to the new guidelines, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) recommended the chair of each meeting remind speakers how public comment works. She said speakers are sometimes confused and think that they might be getting an answer to questions from aldermen, when in reality public comment is just a time for speakers to make a short speech, and aldermen typically do not respond.

“Maybe we can just make sure we are educating people so they understand when they come here…we’re not going to go into a long dialogue with them,” Fleming said. “So maybe that cuts back some of the frustration with the individuals.”

At the meeting, aldermen also voted to provide guidelines for public comment during standing committees. The amendment allots 45 minutes of public comment for the Planning and Development Committee, and 20 minutes of public comment for all other standing committees.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz also requested further discussion of more extensive rules revisions at the June 3 Rules Committee meeting.

Before the decorum guidelines were passed, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) raised concerns that the decrease of civility at City Council meetings over the past couple of years has decreased citizen participation by some members of the community.

“My concern is that a lot of the people that I’ve known to be very, very reasonable have expressed to me their reluctance to come and speak at Council because of the way that they’ve been treated in this building by very local advocates for certain positions,” Fiske said.

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