Monday, December 5th, 2016

Public comment at Common Council meetings

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The Spring City Chronicle is reporting that the scope of public comments may be drastically curtailed:

I got wind that Alderwoman Joan Francouer wants to propose that public comment at Common Council Meetings be restricted to items appearing on the agenda. I would encourage others on the Common Council vote this proposal down. Such a rule to limit a resident’s right to address a grievance or to propose legislation in a public forum should not be infringed any more than it already is by having a 30 minute time limit. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Nobody made you run for alderman.

While I sympathize with the aldermen, the whole point of having a public comment period is to hear concerns that are not being addressed, or were previously addressed but not handled correctly. Yes, some people abuse the privilege with personal attacks, but that’s the fault of the person who is presiding over the meeting, not the rule.

If the council members are uncomfortable with what they are hearing at the public comments, the best way to combat ignorance is to reach out to the community and explain your side. There is nothing to stop aldermen from going door-to-door or writing op-ed pieces to explain the issues. Some of them could even ask the Chamber of Commerce to put together an informational flier on the water issue for distribution.

Alderman Charlie Betker, whether I disagreed with him or not, made a point of keeping the people of his district informed. The current aldermen could learn from his example.

Right now the aldermen have the perfect weather for going out and meeting their constituents. They should take advantage. It may be a part time job, but all of them knew the hours put in as an alderman were going to be a lot more than what they would receive compensation for.

Update! From today’s Waukesha Freeman (less than a buck!):

Francoeur said in the memo that the original intent was to allow public comment pertinent to the agenda’s items without restricting comment on other city issues.

“If we can define appropriate guidelines, they would give the mayor an agreement with the council and an agreed-to basis for managing the meeting,” Francoeur said in the memo. “This would also provide a framework for the public. If nothing else, the guidelines will allow us to re-establish a respectful tone in the chamber. It is important for the council to hear from the public when they believe things are not working. I believe it is equally important that respect is show for the mayor, the city staff and the council when the public speaks.”

I have no idea what “allow public comment pertinent to the agenda’s items without restricting comment on other city issues” means, do you? Sometimes I think local officials weigh their words way too carefully. Say it. SAY IT!

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