Public comments time stays near meeting's beginning

Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever on Tuesday night voted against his own proposal that would have moved the public comments section toward the end of council meetings.

The council voted 4 to 0 to keep the time, which is reserved for speaking on issues not on the agenda, near the beginning of the meetings. The move was met with applause from the audience. Councilman Gary Monahan was absent.

Bever's proposal was an attempt to curtail what he deemed to be bad behavior from some commenters.

"More than anything, I wanted to get everybody's attention that I'm serious — we need to keep the decorum in these meetings," Bever said.

Some residents called the resolution censorship.

"I would remind you are elected to lead, not to rule. You are not our parents. It is not your purview to punish us," said resident Eleanor Egan. "If you expect decorum from other people, you better show some yourself."

The council also decided to move up council members' reports, comments and suggestions, and that the city CEO report should follow public comments. Tuesday's motion included reserving the mayor's right to continue comments to the end of the meeting if they go too long.

Bever said he was motivated to bring the resolution forward after watching the community disrespect former Mayor Monahan to the extent that he would become irate.

He also received concerns that behavior at meetings had become so horrendous — with heckling, whispering and snickering — that some residents stopped attending.

"What has happened, through the evolution of this lack of decorum, people that come to this room to speak have been sent away because others do not respect their opinions," Bever said.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece spoke out against the resolution, bringing up concerns that it would disenfranchise students, the elderly and those who wake up early from having their voices heard.

"I think that all comments are productive, whatever side people are on, and I never tire of listening to the public," she said.

She added later: "To move [comments] to the end shows a great contempt and disdain for the people who live in the city."

Some also questioned the transparency of the item, which didn't reference moving public comments on the agenda. Residents had to read the staff report to find out about it.

Bever said the item wasn't "slipped in the agenda," but did call it an error and apologized for the oversight.

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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