Are draconian measures really necessary?COLUMBIA, Mo 10/9/13 (Beat Byte) -- First Ward City Councilman Fred Schmidt wants to impose the most restrictive measures ever on public testimony at Columbia City Council meetings.
"We are a growing city and there is going to be a time...that we really can't allow any member of the public to speak," Schmidt told a meeting of fellow Council members Monday night. "While it's a good idea to allow anyone to speak on any issue, there's going to be a time when we simply can't do it for logistical reasons. We're gonna have to realize that."Decades-old Council rules allow any person to speak on any topic when public testimony is opened to the Council audience. Group representatives --- neighborhood association leaders, for instance -- are allowed five minutes to testify. Individuals receive three minutes, while the Mayor keeps time.
But "an elephant in the room: the same three or four people who get up and talk on every issue," prompted Mr. Schmidt's suggestions. "Certain people who speak regularly are the most flagrant violators of the three-minute rule. People like John Clark and Monta Welch will argue Bob [Mayor McDavid] down and refuse to stop speaking even when he says 'your time is up' and I think that's -- they should know better because they come here every time."Clark is an attorney and former president of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association. Welch directs People's Visioning, a group with multiple city government interests.A September Council meeting that didn't adjourn until early the following morning prompted the discussion, during which other Council members suggested additional hearings to accomodate controversial topics; and automated time-keeping that would remove a long-standing perception Mayoral time-keeping is biased.
They also mostly downplayed Mr. Schmidt's concerns. "I have not seen this as such a terrible problem," said Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas. "I think it's good that so many people are engaged."
Monta Welch agrees. "The public has a duty to take concerns to the Council. The Council has a duty to hear them," she told the Heart Beat. "Constituents who stay home dampen democracy. Council members who do not like hearing from an engaged community can give up their seats if they don't want to give up their time."
Though Mr. Schmidt persisted, he seemed in uncertain territory, stammering through parts of his presentation. "And, and, um if somebody gets up to talk on ten issues and insists on using their 3 minutes, um, that's 30 minutes for that one person," he explained, asking his fellow Council members to tackle the problem head on. "We actually need to individually speak to the repeat offenders," he said.
But while Mr. Schmidt may address "repeat offenders" one-on-one, other Council members may not."Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser, to her credit, implores the folks to come down and make their thoughts and opinions known," Welch said.
"We appreciate the time and sacrifice of all our elected officials," she added. "We hope they will find a solution [to over-long meetings] that is best for a strong democracy and a free country without dampening free speech, which helps us make informed decisions together."