Council Revisits Issue of Public Comment
A year after switching the public comment period to the end of their meetings, City Council members have unanimously voted to move the people’s opportunity to speak back to the outset of each meeting.
The council took the action Tuesday in response to complaints that it was trying to stifle free speech.
Councilman John Zaragoza described the later public comment period as a “pilot program,” but stopped short of saying the experiment had failed.
“This gives the residents the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ or ‘we hate you’ and then go home early,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of the people abuse [the public comment period], but we should not hinder the process because of a number of individuals.”
Zaragoza was referring to a few activists who address the council on almost every issue.
Indeed, several speakers Tuesday urged the council to move the comment period to the start of meetings--even though the panel had already indicated that it would vote to do just that.
The comment period will be restricted to 30 minutes, and anybody who wants to talk after the time has expired will have to wait until the meeting’s end.
Zaragoza said he hopes that the time limit will prompt speakers to be courteous and will cut down on grandstanding.
People will still have the opportunity to talk about specific items on the agenda at the time the issue is dealt with.
Whether the time change will be the final word on the matter is unclear. Oxnard officials have changed how the council deals with the public comment period at least five times in the last decade.