At the August 6, 2008, meeting of the Elkton Town Commissioners, Mayor Fisona began the session by announcing new rules for those hoping to offer public input to the Board. The protocol included limiting public comments to 5-minutes and requiring individuals to sign in or they couldn’t address the board. When these previously unannounced restrictions were discussed by the elected officials, Mayor Fisona said the rules were “successful elsewhere” and Commissioner Jablonski said they had “previously discussed the need to bring the meeting under order.” Commissioner Storke said he did not support the protocol.
The comments above are summarized from the town minutes since I arrived after the meeting was underway and was unaware of this proposed restriction. However, the board did not try to limit comments at the end of its session for those not knowing that they had to sign in were allowed to speak for whatever time they desired. Other had followed the new rule and signed in. Whatever the case all the comments were relatively brief. While I’ve only been carefully watching town meetings since March, the sessions I’ve seen have had a very few number of speakers offering public comments and the time required has been 10 or 15 minutes at the maximum. Sometimes there are as few as three citizens offering remarks and the most I’ve seen has been six.
There are certainly times when a governing board may want to limit input in order to manage the process. I saw the need for this to happen when the county raised taxes this year and over 100 citizens turned out to offer input to the count. To manage that process, it was clearly a time to set some guidelines. But thus far, in my observations of the town, it has not had a large number of people turn out to speak. Additionally if this is a public policy the board wants to implement as a best practice, it would be a courtesy to citizens and allow for more less noisy implementation if they town board would agree on the policy it wants to implement as a body and then announce an implantation date for a later meeting.