With some concerned that the current public comment protocol is too restrictive, Effingham City Council commissioners disputed the practice at this week’s meeting.
The current protocol requires citizens to obtain a speaker card by 12 p.m. on the day of the city council meeting.
They must also inform city administration of their comment topic, and there is a 5-minute time limit on comments during the meeting.
“Making people go to city hall during the day and get a speaker’s card isn’t fair,” said Commissioner Brian Milleville, noting that giving notice to the subject is also unfair. “You are tipping us off to what they are going to talk about. If they want to come in and address the body, they should be able to address the body.”
Milleville informed the board that after attending other area meetings, he feels the procedure needs to be reworked.
“The (Effingham) school board and county board seem to be very open to discussion,” said Milleville. “At the beginning of the meeting, those who signed in right before the meeting are asked what topic they would like to speak about.”
Both Milleville and Commissioner Matt Hirtzel expressed their interest in relaxing the regulations on those who want to address the board.
“Why couldn’t we say a five minute time limit might be implemented?” said Hirtzel.
The protocol is to create consistency among conversations at council meetings, said City Attorney Tracy Willenborg.
“The problem with not having a policy is that it opens the city up to litigation,” she said, adding that giving people different amounts of time could be considered limiting one’s speech.
In addition to needing consistency, Mayor Merv Gillenwater defended the reasoning behind having constituents sharing their discussion topic.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be caught off guard,” said Gillenwater. “We actually want to resolve the question they have. It gives us a little opportunity to research the issue before they come in.”