Items usually work their way through one or more other bodies, such as the Planning Board, the Historic Preservation Board, a Council Committee, or another board, committee, or task force, before coming to the Council, and public comment is accepted throughout the process.
The City Council itself takes public comment on items in a few different ways.
Here's a primer on when you can expect opportunities for public comment before the Council or a council committee, how a public hearing or public comment period works, and how to contact councilors directly if you don't wish to testify in a public setting.
If you want to comment on something that IS on the Council agenda, there will be an opportunity for public comment when that item comes up on the agenda during the meeting—UNLESS the item is a first read. A first read is exactly that: an item that is appearing on the Council agenda for the first time. The purpose of a first read is to make people aware of an issue that will be coming up at the next Council meeting. First reads are always labeled as first reads in the last line of the description. (The last line will state, "This item is a first read.") When an item appears on the agenda as a second read, the last line of the agenda description will include information about how many votes are required to pass the item after public comment. As you've probably already guess, a "second read" is an item that is appearing on the agenda for the second time. It is at the second read that the Council typically deliberates and takes action on an item.
Public comment is not taken during Council workshops. Council workshops are a chance for the Council to get detailed information about an issue or topic, ask questions, request more information or research, and provide guidance to city staff. The Council does not vote on issues during workshops, and public comment is not taken. Even so, workshops are a great chance for everyone to get information on issues and topics, and the public is always welcome to attend workshops. Workshops are also streamed live on the City's Facebook page, so you can watch them from home.
If it is unclear from the committee's agenda as to whether public comment will be taken or not, contact the committee chair and/or other committee members directly to inquire.
Anyone in attendance is welcome to speak, and in most cases the Council or committee members will stay until everyone who wants to has. Here's how things typically go:
- In order to keep things moving along, the Chair will typically ask people to get in line so speakers can follow one another fairly quickly. People who wish to speak should form a line down the center aisle of the audience section of the first floor of Council Chambers or in the balcony section upstairs. The Chair will typically alternate between the two levels, taking a comment from the first floor and then one from the balcony until all comments are heard.
- Council or committee members do not directly engage with people during the public comment period. Instead, we just listen. If people pose questions, we make a note of them and do our best to answer all questions at the end of the public comment period.
3. The basic rules for public comment are as follows:
- When you are recognized by the Chair, you will have up to three (3) minutes* to offer your comments. Please begin by stating your name, what organization or business you represent (if any), and where you live.
- While someone is speaking, others in attendance will not interrupt.
- There should be no expressions approval or disapproval (applause, snapping, boos, hissing).
- Remarks shall be confined to the merits of the pending item.
- The Chair may limit or cut off any commentary that is not germane or that is scurrilous, abusive, or not in accord with good order and decorum.
- Any person who shall continue to violate these rules, after warning by the Chair, may be ejected for the remainder of the meeting then in progress.
*Regarding the Three (3)-Minute Rule:
When I chair a meeting, I try to let people know they need to wrap up when they have about 15 seconds left. When we have a small group of people interested in speaking, I sometimes let speakers go a little long. But when we have a large crowd, out of respect for everyone's time and a desire to allow all who wish to speak the opportunity to do so, I stick very closely to the three-minute rule.
With that in mind, it can be helpful to give yourself a practice run before you testify, particularly if you have written comments you wish to read.
And that's it. Everyone is welcome, all views are appreciated, and we always work hard to keep things civil so that all people can express their opinions or concerns.