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Praise for a bit of predictability | IN OUR OPINION
The Bainbridge Island City Council took a laudable first step last week in crafting guidelines for people who want to offer public comment during hearings.
Hopefully, the adoption of guidelines for hearings before the council will lead to some consistency on how members of the public are treated when they rise to speak. In the past, it has seemed that the amount of time given to speakers has unfairly varied based on the whim of the person running the meeting.
The new guidelines will require speakers to sign up in advance, and will also limit the amount of time that speakers have at the lectern, depending on the number of people who have signed up to speak, with speakers having either 2 or 3 minutes each.
If fewer than 20 people sign up to talk, they will each be given a maximum of 3 minutes to talk. If more than 20 people sign up, they will be given a maximum of 2 minutes each.
Other guidelines include maintaining a respectful atmosphere in council chambers during hearings, without responses or noises from the audience or others in attendance; and having council members not immerse themselves into the hearing by answering questions or responding to comments.
While it’s true that it’s the council’s prerogative to decide how to run its hearings, it remains to be seen if one past practice for public meetings that has been retained — the practice of allowing citizens to cede their time at the lectern to others — will be effective.
We’re concerned that allowing people to band together to create substantial blocks of speaking time may have a dampening effect on those who come to share an opposing but minority viewpoint. For example, a group of 30 people united in support or opposition to an issue — a number not unheard of when considering recent controversial topics such as the Shoreline Master Program — could result in a 60-minute block of speaking time for one viewpoint before an opposing view could be aired before the council.
If the new guidelines are abused in such a manner, the council should consider allotting a standard amount of time, say 10 to 20 minutes, for a spokesperson who represents a viewpoint shared by a large number of people.
Those who feel that such a restriction would unfairly restrict the time needed to completely share their point of view could always take the more practical approach of submitting written comments to the city before the start of the hearing.