On Monday, Feb. 3 at 5:30 p.m., the Decatur City Council will be voting on whether to significantly restrict public comment at open meetings. Specifically, the council will consider eliminating the general public’s ability to comment after each agenda item on the council’s agenda (as is current practice), and limit the total amount of time for public comment to 30 minutes at the beginning of each meeting.
The city is proposing to significantly restrict public comment in order to “make public meetings more efficient and to maintain civility and decorum throughout public meetings.”
The city provides no evidence that city council meetings are currently inefficient. Even if the city wanted to strive toward more efficiency, it should not be at the expense of a council that no longer makes the best decisions possible for the city. Often, the best input and the greatest expertise comes from our citizens and it should not be restricted. Every citizen that wants to should have the opportunity to express their view on how their money is spent regardless of how long the meeting goes.
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It is also unclear how restricting public comments will “maintain civility and decorum”. The city does not define “civility and decorum.” Restrictions will be viewed as an infringement of free speech.
I am strongly opposed to restricting the ability of the public to comment at meetings. It is unnecessary, unjustified, and will be viewed as an infringement on First Amendment rights. Furthermore, it is a barrier to public participation in city government. Less public participation will undoubtedly lead to poorer decision making by the city council at the very time Decatur faces significant and growing challenges. The best solutions often come from the general public.