The Ottumwa Courier

Ottumwa

July 29, 2013

Council shoots down mayor's request to extend public input

OTTUMWA — City councilmen said changing the code to give the public more time to speak at council meetings is unnecessary.

Mayor Frank Flanders requested a proposal to lengthen the time an individual is allowed to speak on an agenda item or during the public forum from three to five minutes.

In 2010, the council voted to reduce the amount of time a citizen could speak from five to three minutes. Councilman Mitch Niner suggested the policy was changed then "probably because some of us get off at five and we were still here until 9 or 9:30 at night listening to people speak."

Following the meeting, Flanders told the Courier that as elected officials, listening to the public is part of their job.

"It's what they signed up for," he said.

But there comes a time, said Councilman Jeremy Weller, when redundant public comments need to be cut short.

"If someone comes up tonight to talk and if they're making a point, we're going to let them talk," Weller said. "But if it's the third reading, and we've heard the same information two to three times already, we don't need to hear what we heard at the last two meetings for 10 minutes."

Councilman Brian Morgan agreed, noting that if someone is making a valid argument, the rule could be suspended to allow them more time to speak.

At any time during public comment, with a vote by the council, the three-minute limit can be suspended.

The problem with this option, Flanders said, is that the council could suspend the rules for some citizens and not for others.

"I understand the emotional need for people to present their case, but isn't three minutes enough?" said Councilman Bob Meyers.

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