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Suamico board won’t impose time limit for public comments… yet

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

SUAMICO – The village board spent time Monday, October 7, discussing whether a time limit should be put on those making public comments at meetings.

Some public comment periods in recent months have lasted for around 30 minutes and even up to an hour with some of those speaking before the board making return appearances on the same topic.

However, the board ended up not setting a time limit for the time being.

Some topics consuming several minutes of the board’s time during the comment periods have included concerns expressed about the site to build the new Fire Station No. 1 and standing water in a culvert, among others.

At the request of some board members, Village Administrator Alex Kaker said he provided them a listing of how other municipalities handle the public comment period related to the time allotted to those speaking.

“You’ll notice that most municipalities have about a 3-to-5-minute time allotment during public comment periods,” Kaker said. “I will defer to the board, if you guys want us to include any kind of time allotment on public comment for village board meetings.”

Village President Laura Nelson said she would be opposed to limiting the time people could speak before the board during comment periods.

“In our constitutional republic, people have the right to address their elected representatives,” Nelson said. “We really haven’t had a problem in the time that I’ve been here, and I don’t see it as something that’s been so time-consuming that we need to put restrictions on people giving voice to their concerns.”

Nelson also pointed out not many members of the public attend the board meetings on a monthly basis.

Trustee Dan Roddan suggested reminding the people speaking before the board to be considerate of other people’s time.

“It’s 6:20 right now (after the meeting began at 6 p.m.), and if particular individuals were in this room right now, we’d still be taking public comment and not be moving through the agenda, because they’re very lengthy conversations that need to be taken care of before the (comment) period is over,” he said.

Roddan said standing water in a culvert, for example, is something that could be referred to Public Works Director Andy Smits to handle without spending 25 minutes talking about the matter during a board meeting.

Trustee Sky Van Rossum said listing an allotted time to speak would allow more people to speak when the board room is full.

“It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily enforce 5 minutes, but when individuals come forward, they know they have 5 minutes,” Van Rossum said. “They need to condense their thoughts. They need to get the focus of those details out. We need to do that to allow others to speak, in my opinion.”

Trustee Michelle Eckert said she didn’t believe allowing someone to speak beyond 10 minutes would be able to change someone’s mind.

“You’re going to say, pretty much, everything you need to say in that 10 minutes, or you’ll just start repeating yourself, and repeating yourself, and repeating yourself,” Eckert said. “So maybe not (a limit of) 5 (minutes), maybe 10. But I’m sorry, you’re not going to convince anybody, anyway further, if you rattle on past 10 (minutes).”

Trustee Mike Schneider said it would be better to have a time limit and not have to use it than to need a limit and not be able to use it.

Trustee Steve Andrews said he would favor having a 5-minute rule for public comments.

“Without interruptions, because we’re not interrupting them, they’re speaking, you can get a lot said in 5 minutes,” Andrews said. “It’s usually just a topic.”

Trustee Jason Ward said he favored having a policy for the public appearances.

“If you don’t have a policy, nobody really has to follow it,” Ward said. “It’s harder to shut down…”

Ward said he would be fine with limiting individual public comments to 10 minutes.

“If you pass 10 minutes (speaking), I guarantee you’re reiterating, rambling,” he said.

Absent a specific policy, Van Rossum said the board shouldn’t go back and forth with people while they’re speaking.“We cannot be engaging individuals who are making comments,” he said. “We need to let them make their comments.”

If the board has a problem with controlling the time spent on public comments in the future, Van Rossum said the matter should be revisited with a policy.

“I’m open to trying (a public comment period without a policy limiting the time of speakers),” he said. “What the world does not need is more rules.”

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