Monday, May 3, 2010

Public Comment Time

It's a good idea that the City Commission has decided to switch public comment back to the end of the meeting. Having it at the beginning was too time consuming and by the time the regular agenda items were discussed, everybody had lost interest and just wanted out of there.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. It seems that City Manager Doyon is tired of public comment time being used as an "inquisition" of his staff. In fact, he's suggested that if it doesn't stop, he will allow them to be excused from the meeting.


If city staff, including Mr. Doyon, can't be bothered one way or the other to respond to questions concerning activities involving their departments, they don't have any business being in the job.

Citizens have the right to make appropriate inquiries at City Commission meetings. Some questions are easily answered, which has been demonstrated, while others may take some research. That's fine. Folks understand that not every question can necessarily be answered on the spot. It is expected though that an answer be forthcoming in a reasonable amount of time and not simply ignored.

It's high time that our well-paid city staff, including our city manager, remember that they work FOR US, not the other way around.

By RICHARD ECKE • Tribune Staff Writer • April 30, 2010

The public comment period will be moved toward the end of City Commission meetings, commissioners decided this week.

In December, City Manager Greg Doyon suggested the commission's public comment period be moved toward the beginning of its meetings.

"I think the flow would be a little better," Doyon said at the time.

Commissioners tried the approach for four months. The comment period, called "petitions and communications," on the agenda, can last 20 minutes or even an hour, depending on how many people want to speak.

At an agenda-setting meeting Wednesday, commissioners decided to give up the experiment for now.

"I really, really think that it's better at the end," Commissioner Mary Jolley said.

"I agree with that," Commissioner Bill Bronson said.

Mayor Michael Winters also said he agreed for the time being. Winters said television news people complained that holding the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting prevented them from staying to hear many hotly debated issues because of their deadlines to meet for a 10 p.m. newscast. The commission's regular meetings start at 7 p.m.

Bronson added that he has received telephone calls from a Tribune reporter to his cell phone during meetings after the reporter left the meeting to meet deadline.

"It's your meeting," Doyon told commissioners. "Thanks for humoring me for a few months."

Some regular speakers during the commission's public comment period this year are John "Johnny Angry" Hubbard, Mike Witsoe, Ron and Kathleen Gessaman, Brett Doney, Aart Dolman, Larry Rezentes, Richard Liebert, Travis Kavulla and Stuart Lewin.

During Wednesday's discussion, Bronson said he thinks speakers should be reminded to address commissioners and not mug for cable Channel 7 cameras in the room.
Jolley said she believes members of the public have the right to turn their heads in any direction they choose. Winters sided with Bronson on the head-turning issue question.

Liebert, chairman of Citizens for Clean Energy, rapped commissioners Thursday for trying to tell the public where to look when speaking at city meetings.

"I vigorously disagree with that," Liebert said, terming the suggestion "intolerable."

Doyon also told commissioners during Wednesday's meeting that he does not believe the public comment period should serve as an "inquisition" in which city staff members are subjected to accusatory questioning from the public.

"To put staff on the spot is unfair sometimes," Doyon said.

He said residents could just as easily ask department heads for the information during the week, when officials are more likely to have the needed information at their fingertips.

Otherwise, Doyon said he could opt to allow department heads to leave the meeting when the comment period begins.

"Some of us will have to stay around," he added with a chuckle.

Winters, who runs the commission meetings, said he believes there are two sides to the issue.

"This is the public's house," Winters said, adding that he tries to have city staff
resolve issues, within reason, on the spot if that is possible.

"Sometimes the answer is easily available from staff," Jolley added.

"There needs to more discretion exercised on that," Doyon said, noting that staff members may not have an answer at the meetings and not have the necessary information on hand to find the answer.

Doyon said he would reserve the right to excuse staff members from the meeting if questioning gets out of hand.

Liebert said he did not object to the public comment period being moved toward the end of city meetings, but he criticized Doyon for trying to "circle the wagons" and shield city staff from questions.

"I think it can be done politely," Liebert said.


Great Falls Guy said...

"If city staff, including Mr. Doyon, can't be bothered one way or the other to respond to questions concerning activities involving their departments, they don't have any business being in the job".


big sky husker said...

The city is losing thousands of dollars a day with ECP. And Doyon is concerned about where people look at during a commission meeting. Talk about having some screwed up priorities.