After a verbal tour of many of the possibilities of allowing citizen comment to be presented at public meetings from places other than the meeting room itself, members of the Rules Committee of City Council agreed that until technology and funding are more readily available, citizen comment will remain as it is. The Rules Committee, composed of all nine aldermen and the mayor, sets the rules for City Council.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, had asked for discussion to resume on that item, she said, because many people in her ward had asked about it.
“Are we going to move forward on it or not?” Ald. Burrus asked and added that she had heard “that the Environment Board was doing remote citizen comment.”
Evonda Thomas, director of health and human services for the City, said the Environment Board did use a speaker phone for one meeting, “and it didn’t work.” Because not everything could be heard, the board then allowed comments by e-mail, she said.
Aldermanic Assistant Joe McRae said he was asked to investigate using the radio station for live citizen comment and said the antenna would have to be relocated in order to do this. He also said he had talked with City Attorney Grant Farrar about having a voice-mail line available from 3 to 5 p.m. on the day of a meeting for people to call in comments about agenda items.
Mr. Farrar said the issue was “not dealt with in the municipal code or the Open Meetings Act” and added that a system of remote comment “could affect the [recording] of the minutes and [thus be a problem with] the Open Meetings Act. “As to remote comment before a meeting, there is no legal impediment,” he said; “it’s just the same as communicating with an alderman.”
Mr. McRae said some software is available – at a cost of about $200 per month – that would allow people to post [on the City’s website] comments to an agenda item.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said “Two hundred dollars a month is too much. I think we need to work on the technology.”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she had two concerns: cost and timing. “We simply don’t have the money.” Further, she said, she did not wish to add to the time spent in a meeting by answering questions that have already been answered.
Ald. Burrus then suggested that e-mails could be sent to the aldermen and someone would read them aloud at meetings. Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “I’m pretty disinclined to do this. It opens itself to be unmanageable. There could be too many e-mails; some could be skipped or caught in spam.”
The committee decided, said Second Ward Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, committee chair, “not to allow remote citizen comment at this time.”
“And continue to have Mr. McRae monitor the technology,” Ald. Wynne added.