Plenty to say about this public comment policy

In Portsmouth they're up in arms because the city council there voted unanimously to cut public comment speaking times from five minutes per speaker down to three minutes.

The problem isn't so much with the change in the rules as it is with the way that the policy was discssed an implemented: in closed session! You read that right: they talked about a public comment period policy shift -- a shift that affects the public when they attend public meetings -- in a closed-door session. The irony is so thick as to require a knife to spread it.

But again, as noted, the rule change itself isn't so egregious. Time limits on speakers have been around for a while, and a three-minute limit is pretty common. There is a need, of course, for a public body to be able to get its work done and it can't do that if scarce meeting time is taken up with endless comments, prayers and invective.

The Freedom of Information Act doesn't guarantee a right to speak at a meeting and imposes no rules on how comment periods are administered. Nor is there a statutory right or a constitutional right to speak at a public meeting. You could say that a public body offers a comment period as a courtesy, but I wouldn't advise saying that as citizen participation in public meetings has long been accepted as an essential part of our democratic process, even if our process is officially called a represenative democracy. Think town halls and local caucuses. (And if you want more ideas for citizen participation in meetings and the local lawmaking process, check out this great resource.)

So while Portsmouth bungled the way it handled the policy change, the change itself isn't so terrible.

Not so in Greene County.

On a vote of 4-1, the county passed this doozy of a public comment period policy.

Charlottesville radio host Rob Schilling has a colorful analysis of the policy (and it was Rob who alerted me to it), so I won't rehash all of his points.

Suffice it to say that this policy is so bad that it would be better not to have a public comment period at all. This policy needs to go!


<p>How do we as citizens have this investigated?&nbsp; I as well as a host of other citizens in our city have simply had it with our council and we want to take action.&nbsp; What do you suggest our next step to be.&nbsp; Believe me we plan on doing everything in our power to vote off all of the current council members and we are trying to recall the Mayor but as far as this recent secret voting what can we as citizens do?&nbsp; I would appreciate any assistance you can offer.&nbsp;</p>
<p>I e-mailed each council member yesterday and the reigning theme in the only 3 responses I got was &quot;we don&#39;t care.&quot;&nbsp; Thank you, Julie Boone</p>

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