Abuses by a few people prompted the RCL to recommended changes to the City Council's public comment policy. The following statement was read at the 1/31/05 Roseville City Council meeting:
The Roseville Citizens League believes the public comment policy for Roseville City Council meetings needs to be improved. The existing policy allows any citizen with an inexhaustible supply of ill will and contempt, an unlimited platform to spread their poison. This damages everyone in the city in two ways.
First, allowing any person to waste 15% to 25% of each and every meeting greatly extends the length of the meetings. It's a proven fact that mental fatigue is caused by continual mental effort and attention on a particular task, as well as high levels of stress or emotion. Each of you puts in a full days work before the council meetings even start. You cannot do your best work when one person is allowed to speak on everything and thereby drag the meetings on for 3, 4 or even 5 hours. Think about it. How comfortable would you be if you knew that your financial adviser devised a critical plan for your future after putting in a 12 to 14 hour day? You need to adopt a comment policy that permits input without allowing un-elected citizens to extend meeting times to the point where your decision-making ability is impaired.
Second, and more important to Roseville's future, when you allow anyone to create a sulfurous atmosphere at council meetings it discourages qualified people from running for the council. Why would anybody in their right mind run for an office where their predecessors had essentially abandoned any attempt to impose civility on the people who appear before them? Who by inaction had tacitly approved and thereby established a precedent of permitting atrocious abusive behavior. You might give some thought to who is left to run for office if people in their right mind won't? You need to adopt a public comment policy that prevents an extremely small minority from poisoning the well of future office holders.
Jay Squires has considerable expertise in this area by virtue of his service to a county board that also had to contend with a citizen who didn't know how to play well with others. He's been through a court case for that county on public comment and helped them devise a policy that has allowed them to get past this type of individual with a minimum of delay and disruption. We recommend you solicit his advice.
Public comment is invaluable to help you to keep in touch with citizens and it also provides a safety valve to let people vent their frustration. However, the current policy on public comment is counterproductive. We recommend you do the following:
1. Work with city attorney Jay Squires and adopt a code of conduct that requires speakers to be civil and courteous.
2. Establish the mayor's right to end a speaker's comment privilege at any time if they break the code of conduct.
3. Allot a set amount of time for public comment before the televised meeting. If there are more speakers than that time can accommodate, suspend comments and resume after the business meeting has concluded, again with the cameras off.
4. Establish a 3 or 4-minute time limit for each speaker per meeting. Speaking from prepared comments, rather than ad-libbing, makes it fairly easy to meet this time limit. Install colored lights to help speakers by providing them with a 30 second warning and to indicate when their time is up
5. Add whatever written comments citizens provide to the official meeting record to accommodate those who wish to go into more depth than the time limit allows.
6. If a speaker brings up a subject that needs to be discussed at more length add it as a hearing item to a future meeting agenda – again with time limits.
7. To save council meeting time and not undercut the work done by various city commissions, establish a policy of not taking comments on decisions that have already been made by city commissions after a proper hearing process where no objections were received.
8. Consider dropping public comment altogether at regular meetings (except for official hearings) and have a special meeting once a month just for public comment – again with time limits.
When you allow a malcontent to insult and ridicule you or the staff, you are in essence allowing them to insult everyone in town. After all, we hired you. There are 33,000 people in Roseville and you, and nobody else, were elected to lead them. Do it! We’re grateful that you volunteered your time to serve us and we’re sick and tired of seeing all of you and city staff abused. You and the citizens of Roseville deserve better.