Getting To The Facts About Public Comment Sessions

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by Gordon Metcalf

payson

Since the majority of the Town Council voted to move the nonagenda public comments from the beginning to the end of the Town Council meetings, the mail call section of the Payson Roundup has been bombarded with comments, such as, "We have lost our freedom of speech," "The Town Council has stifled public comments," "The majority of the Town Council is a dictatorship," "It is an egotistical objective of a few," "It will put public comment too late in the meeting," etc, etc, etc.

First, the Town Council meetings are for all of the citizens of Payson, and the meeting agenda is the top priority of business. Most people attend the council meetings because they have an interest in a subject on the agenda for that meeting. The agenda business must be the first to be discussed at a Town Council meeting, and the people attending want to hear and discuss that business under the Open Meetings Act. The Town Councils action to move nonagenda public comments to the end of the meetings has not jeopardized free speech comments allowed during each item on the agenda. People with a special interest, or agenda, may still express their free speech rights at the end of the meeting, with the same democratic freedom they enjoyed at the beginning of the meetings. Nothing has changed except when the nonagenda comments will be heard.

Second, lets examine a few facts obtained from Payson Town Clerk, Silvia Smith. The average length of all Town Council meetings during 2001 was two hours and 12 minutes, which includes the nonagenda public comments. The longest meeting was two hours and 45 minutes. Second, considering the meetings start at 6 p.m., the average Town Council meeting in the year 2001 ended at 8:12 p.m., which is not an unreasonable time for people to hear the nonagenda public comments.

Silvia also made a survey of 28 communities in Arizona to determine how many town councils had nonagenda public comments at the beginning or the end of their meetings. Ten communities, (not counting Payson), have the nonagenda public comments at the end of their town council meetings. Also, 17 of the 28 communities have a form, or speaker cards, that must be completed by people who wish to speak to the Council. The cards spell out the rules for speaking and the time limit allowed to speak. The cards also have a box to check if the person would like to speak on an agenda, or nonagenda subject. Eight of the 28 communities televise the council meetings. This survey has facts that prove the majority of the Payson Town Council acted in good faith by taking action that is very common in other communities. It is clear that those people who abuse the public comment portion of the Town Council meetings are the same individuals making untrue and misleading comments about the action taken by the majority of the Payson Town Council.

Let's move on! This subject has been beaten to death.

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