Cottage Grove City Council makes change to its meeting open forum policyWant to speak up before the Cottage Grove City Council? New rules give you more time — but you’ll still need to be quick.
Want to speak up before the Cottage Grove City Council? New rules give you more time — but you’ll still need to be quick.
The city will extend the time limit for open forum speakers from two to three minutes and add a three-minute limit on public hearing presentations, after the City Council approved a policy update last week. It is an effort, city officials say, to balance opportunities for public input with the need to keep council meetings moving efficiently.
The mayor will also have the ability to grant additional time if a speaker is offering new information to the council.
“The public hearing should not be the first time concerns are aired,” City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said. “The venue still exists but we need to have some way to keep the meeting moving.”
New open forum and public hearing rules, approved April 18, follow more than a year of increased attention on the public’s role at council meetings. Plans for the new city hall and public safety facility set to open this fall prompted a group of opponents to the project to speak up at council meetings — often regardless of whether the $16 million building was on the agenda.
Some have used the 15-minute open forum that opens council meetings to air a litany of complaints and criticisms about the city — and have, at times, leveled personal attacks against Mayor Myron Bailey and other council members.
“People can speak. If they have a concern about the city they absolutely can,” Bailey said in an interview. “But what we need to stop are the personal attacks that, in some cases, have been happening up at the podium.”
Nearby cities Woodbury and South St. Paul both have three-minute limits for open forum speakers; South St. Paul features a three-minute public hearing speaking limit, as well. Woodbury caps public hearings at 30 minutes and allows a maximum of three speakers; it also allows only three speakers at open forums.
Council member Derrick Lehrke said he couldn’t support the new policy in Cottage Grove. He cast the lone vote against the measure.
“I have a problem limiting residents to three minutes,” Lehrke said. “This is the time for citizens to have a voice. This is the council meeting.”
Council meetings are not the only venue for addressing council members or city officials, though, Bailey and Schroeder said. Residents can contact the city and council members directly; forthcoming projects include neighborhood meetings; and the city’s advisory commissions hold public hearings on issues before they go to the council.
“We need to have some type of parameters so you don’t have someone up there rambling on for an extended period of time,” Bailey said.