MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 17, 2012

Proposal expands public input at meetings

Public comment on non-agenda issues would remain the same

— Proposals for a new ordinance and policy statement would expand the scope of public input at city meetings, a Muskogee official said.

Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson said the proposed rules also should bring some uniformity to how that input is presented and received.

The panel charged with offering changes to city policy got hung up debating issues that could limit city councilors’ ability to inquire further about an issue being presented. Once committee members cleared that hurdle, members sailed through the final meeting and completed work on documents.

“I think we’ve put some processes in place that will provide some uniformity — this framework will help us move forward,” said Johnson, who chaired the review committee. “I’ll also get to hear from the public before we vote on an item.”

The proposed rules, which will be presented Tuesday at the Public Works Committee meeting, identify additional opportunities for the public to provide input at city meetings. Public comment regarding non-agenda issues would remain essentially the same — three minutes at the end of a City Council meeting or before an executive session is convened.

The primary difference is anyone wishing to speak would be required to complete a form prior to the meeting, identifying the issue and the action sought. The form also would include an option for the speaker to meet with up to four councilors at the conclusion of the meeting.

The proposed rules offer two new opportunities to weigh in. The first provides for public input on agenda items while they are being debated at meetings conducted by Public Works and Finance committees and City Council meetings. Speakers would have five minutes to weigh in, and councilors would have another five minutes for further inquiry.

Assistant City Attorney Matthew Beese initially advised against limiting councilors’ response time. Councilors Lee Ann Langston, Ward I, and Kenny Payne, Ward IV, also expressed concern about limiting councilors with regard to the time they would have to question a speaker.

“I have a concern you could miss the forest for the trees — I want to be uniform, but I don’t want to be so rigid that we miss something,” Payne said. “There is one reason we are up here: It’s to listen to the people.”

Johnson argued for limits on councilors’ time to inquire but agreed to expand the time from his original proposal of two minutes. Committee members also added a provision allowing councilors to enlarge the time by a vote of the majority, which would curb the powers of the person presiding over the meeting.

Another proposed rule provides for special presentations, which must be sponsored by a city councilor. This provision would allow a speaker to lobby a city councilor to place an item on the agenda. If a councilor decides to sponsor the item, the speaker would have up to 30 minutes to present the issue.

Input during public hearings required by laws, regulations or the city charter would essentially remain unchanged except for a five-minute time limit.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot

@muskogeephoenix.com.

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