The public-comment system at Burbank City Council meetings is
needlessly complicated and confusing, and should be simplified so
that citizens can address the council at one or two points in the
Thanks to changes in the council’s oral communications policy in
2001, members of the public presently have four -- that’s right, four
-- separate opportunities to address the City Council: before closed
session; for one minute on any item of city business following
announcements and public hearings; for four minutes on agenda items;
and again on any item of city business for three minutes at the end
of the meeting.
The idea behind that segregation of comment periods is relevance
-- speakers in each period are required to limit their remarks to the
subject area at hand, be it new business, old business,
closed-session business, or something pulled out of the air.
(Testimony before the council over the years has run the gamut, from
concise, germane remarks about, say, airport operations, to ramblings
about political conspiracies and the kind of weather we’re having.)
But the multiple comment periods are confusing, particularly for
those citizens who don’t make a habit of speaking before the council
and have just one thing they want to talk about briefly. It takes a
little experience for them to figure out when they can speak and for
how long, and more than a few speakers over the past two years have
had it pointed out by the mayor that what they’re commenting on isn’t
appropriate for that specific comment period.
The council could make life easier on itself and the public by
offering, for example, two four-minute comment periods, one for
remarks about what’s on the agenda and one for any item of city
business, be it old, new or in closed session. The trick is deciding
when the periods should be. A comment period for agenda items, as
under the present system, makes sense, so people can offer their
opinions as things are being decided. But should the other period be
before the agenda gets underway, or after the council is done with
Councilman Dave Golonski, who’s criticized the four-part comment
strategy as problematic (though also noting it has its advantages),
is concerned that returning to pre-2001 comment plan -- which
included allowing anyone to address the council for five minutes on
any subject at the start of the meeting -- might lengthen the
meetings. It’s a legitimate concern. Council meetings often used to
run well past 10 p.m. (and sometimes still do).
So perhaps the best way to keep the public involved in city
business while still sending everyone home at a decent hour is to
offer a four-minute comment period on any item of city business after
announcements and public hearings, but before agenda items. That way,
those who need to can express their opinions about whatever they want
and go home before the council gets on with the rest of the night’s
business. The second four-minute block would be offered during agenda
items, which one assumes speakers interested in those topics would
stick around for anyway.
Public access to, and comment about, council business should have
the fewest possible impediments. But there also comes a time when
city officials and the public should realize that the Burbank
council’s effort to increase participation and focus comments in
specific areas, while well-intentioned, is more cumbersome and
confusing than it is advantageous.
We recommend that the city attorney come back to the council in
the next month with a recommendation for two public speaking periods
that will streamline the council meeting process while reducing
confusion for those who wish to speak.