Restricting the ability for public comment at council meetings was shortsighted
Eliminating the ability of citizens to comment after each agenda item, a measure the Decatur City Council approved by a 4-2 vote, was unnecessary, unjustified, and gives citizens reason to conclude that some council members are not interested in public participation or diverse viewpoints.
Prior to the vote, citizens provided excellent perspective and suggestions for improvement to the proposed policy. I respect the perspectives of our citizens and my colleagues, and every council member should have an opportunity to express their view (Councilman Walker could not attend the meeting). For these reasons, Councilman Faber made a motion to table which I seconded. The council voted 4-2 against. In doing so, those council members repressed not only viewpoints of the community, but my colleague on the council.
The city stated the new policies were to “make public meetings more efficient and to maintain civility and decorum throughout public meetings.” The city provides no evidence meetings are inefficient, and if the city wanted more “efficient” meetings, it should not be at the expense of less citizen participation. Often, the best input and expertise comes from our citizens.
It is unlikely restricting public comments will maintain “civility and decorum” and reduce the number of personal attacks on council members. Very few individuals are responsible for personal attacks and personal attacks have been taking place on council members for years. The more likely outcome of the prohibition of public comment after each agenda item will be to lower contributions by those who currently comment at meetings and reduce the desire of others to attend and participate in the meetings.
It is important to note that the city first proposed eliminating public comments after each agenda item at its September 23, 2019 meeting, which was prior to council votes to prohibit cannabis-related businesses in Decatur. Thus, suggestions that eliminating public comment after each agenda item is in response to personal attacks associated with cannabis-related decisions are inaccurate.
Less public participation will undoubtedly lead to poorer decision making by the council at the very time the city faces significant and growing challenges. The best solutions often come from the public, and we need a city government that is open, transparent, and embraces citizen voices. I am strongly opposed to restricting the ability of the public to comment at city council meetings. Unfortunately, some city council members have created barriers to citizen participation and to solving our collective problems.