Jefferson County Council To Weigh Restrictions on Public Comments
Resolution would restrict comments to a few minutes and require a speaker's request card.
A resolution to provide guidelines for the public comment portion of Jefferson County Council meetings is drawing a fair amount of comment itself.
"I am totally not in favor of limiting what people can say," said 1st District Council Member Don Bickowski, of High Ridge. "If a citizen is that frustrated, you're better off letting them get it off their chest."
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Bickowski's comments were directed toward a resolution on Monday's County Council agenda that seeks to limit to five minutes the amount of time a resident is allowed speak. It also sets out a procedure that would require potential speakers to obtain a speaker's request card before being allowed to address the council during its regular meeting. If too many people requested time to speak, the time limit would be reduced to three minutes. The resolution is sponsored by 3rd District Council Member Bob Boyer, of Arnold, and by 5th District Council Member Terri Kreitler.
"We believe both limiting the length of time a person can speak and limiting the amount of people who can speak are both very extreme, said Larry and Ellen Haynes in a letter forwarded to Fenton High Ridge Patch. "When the council members ran for office, where did it say "listen only to some people and only for a few minutes?" If the council meetings are inconveniently too long, they should not have run for county council in the first place."
Boyer said the public comment resolution stems from a recent incident where a woman spoke for more than an hour during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"The problem was this lady took up all the time," Boyer said. "It hadn't really been a problem before, but this (resolution) would address it coming up in the future."
Boyer said the council doesn't have any rules regarding public comment and therefore, could not have just asked the woman to stop or to sum up her commentary.
Boyer defended the proposed public comment regulations and also provided some advice for those who wish to speak to the council at one of its meetings: be concise.
"If you can't say what you want to say in five minutes then you need to pick and choose your words better," Boyer said. ""This (resolution) is actually promoting free speech because it allows more people to talk. We want the discussion on the council. In fact, we want more."
Bickowski says he objects to cutting off a citizens right to free speech and their ability to address their elected officials.
"A citizens' last resort is that public comment (time)," Bickowski said.
The Haynes' are urging residents to attend Monday's county council meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Assembly room of the Jefferson County Administrative Center.
"This may be your last chance to speak at a council meeting without a time clock or ticket", they said in the letter.