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Council comment periods could use streamlining

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

meeting.

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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

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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

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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

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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

action items?

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.


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