Council To Vote On Shortened Public Comment Period At Renton City Council Meetings

Renton City Council members will vote on proposed changes to the public comment period limiting the first public comment to three minutes with a 30-minute limit and restricting the second public comment period to two minutes per speaker.

The public comment period at Renton City Council meeting may change in the near future if Council members approve a set of proposed changes aimed at streamlining the meetings.

Council members discussed the changes at Monday night’s Committee of the Whole, where they decided to nix an original proposal of a single public comment period at the beginning of each meeting with a limit of three minutes per speaker and a maximum 30-minute limit for public comment.

Currently there are two public comment periods available; one at the beginning of the meeting with a five-minute limit for each speaker (and a maximum commenting period of 30 minutes), and a second commenting period at the end of the meeting with no time limit.

After a lengthy discussion, Council members modified the proposal to include a public comment period at the end of the meetings with a two-minute limit per speaker and no limit on the final commenting session. 

Mayor Denis Law said the second comment period was originally established because of the 30-minute limit on the first comment period. Comment rarely runs over the half-hour allotment, and when it does Council members frequently vote to extend the comment window until everyone who signed up to speak gets time at the dias.

“We didn’t anticipate that we’d have some of the same people basically stand up and repeat the same information,” said City Administrator Jay Covington, who moderated the discussion.

The decision to change the commenting policy came about after some speakers — who remained nameless during the meeting — abused the second public comment window by repeating the same information or by using it as personal “soapbox.”

“I don’t anticipate that there would be a lot of people who would be frustrated for lack of time,” he said. “In fact they may do a better job of formulating their thoughts." 

Most Cities limit public comments to three minutes or less, said Council President Rich Zwicker, who did an informal survey of other city public comment policies.

Council member Greg Taylor expressed concern that the reduced time may make City government even more inaccessible.

“Our goal should be to hear more, not be more efficient,” he said, adding that the new limitations may inhibit the opportunity for a citizen to fully express themselves to the Council.

But Council members Terri Briere and Don Persson noted that most speakers don’t use their full five minutes.

In the case of a contentious issue, the shorter comment limit may allow more speakers the chance to address council.

“I think it’d be better to get everybody up front so they can speak before we make the decision,” Persson said.

The proposed changes would limit each speaker's public comment at the beginning of the meeting to three minutes with no limit on the number of speakers. The second public comment period would also remain at the end of the meetings with a two-minute limit.

Council will vote on the changes at the August 6 City Council meeting.


Public Comment Details:

The Renton City Council will vote 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).

Althought this new proposal reduces the amount each speaker has at the dias, Robert's Rules allow Council members to approve additional time for speakers.

What are your thoughts about the proposed changes to the City of Renton's public comment rules?

Editor's Note: City of Renton staff is still preparing the revised recommendation, but it will include no time limit on the first audience comment, as previously reported. Patch regrets the confusion. The recommendation is expected to appear as an agenda bill under the Consent Agenda.

Renate Beedon July 19, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Another item to remember when it comes time to vote for city council.
Beth Asher July 19, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Didn't the City do a study on communicating with their citizens this year? Do they not want return communication? Are the same council members pushing this who were adamantly against us exercising our constitutional right to petition? What are they afraid of? That citizens of Renton will take the legislative process seriously and use it? Or that they won't be able to suppress opinions counter to theirs? Limiting citizens speaking time to 3 minutes when City staff and preferred speakers can drone on as long as they want is unfair. Let the public voice their opinions, concerns and yes, vent their grievances. That's what council members are there for - to listen, respond to and serve the public. NOT special interest groups or their own agendas. City Council isn’t an easy job, the way to a better position, or an easy paycheck with benefits. It's like being a mom to about 92,000 kids, all of them wanting different things and saying the equivalent of "it's not fair!". Though I realize the job isn’t easy, that doesn't give those doing it the right to limit the input of citizens who ARE concerned about their City. Citizen input is the cornerstone of our US Constitution. I wish more people would get interested in City government. It SHOULD be participatory - the more people that take a real interest in it, the better we can make it. “"When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson
D. Charles July 21, 2012 at 05:34 PM
I can help with this... The City of Everett is experiencing, on an ongoing basis, a group of people determined to stop fluoridation of the city water. They abuse the public comment period well beyond any reason and common sense. Some council members have taken to walking out when they start talking and coming back only after all have spoken. Some believe the council members must sit there and take this abuse meeting after meeting after meeting. I, like most, believe nonsense like this must end. As is usually and unfortunately the case, we lose something because of the inexcusable actions of the thoughtless.
Phyllis Forister July 30, 2012 at 02:57 AM
The public has a constitutioal right to be heard by their elected officials. The timing for citizens to speak should stay just as it is. Seldom does a Renton City Council meeting go beyond 8:00 or 8:30 PM. It is wrong to limit dicussion simply because a few have heard all they want to hear. Renton citizens have proven that they know how their government should be working for them and not simply for the elite few.


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