Following a recent series of lengthy public comments, Mayor Milt Kramer proposed that the Manchester City Council adopt a policy used by other communities in order to keep control over the amount of time a citizen is given to address the council.
Currently, the council has no such rule in place to stop a person from speaking endlessly.
Kramer referenced a previous meeting where the complete agenda took 21 minutes to read through and approve, but a single public comment at the end of the meeting lasted an additional 30 minutes.
Kramer presented the council with a list of policies held by other communities, like Dyersville, Dubuque, Charles City and Hiawatha, that place a three-to-five-minute time limit on public comments.
“I’m proposing tonight that we incorporate a five-minute limit on public comments in the future,” Kramer said.
City Attorney Jim Peters said a five-minute limit is quite common, and suggested the council consider placing a 30-minute total cap on the public comment period, not just five-minutes per individual.
“If I wanted to come in here and raise some trouble, I’d bring in 10 friends to tie up (the council) all night,” Peters said.
Peters also reminded the council that since public comments are often about issues that are not on the agenda and therefore cannot be acting upon by the council, the council should consider its right to refrain from giving a response.
“The give-and-take is what tends to make a meeting last,” Peters said, adding the council can prepare a response at a later date. “It’s an awkward position to be in, sometimes you’ll get yourself pinned in a corner you didn’t mean to, and it’s not necessary — you’re not there to make a decision (on the spot).”
There was a question as to how exactly the limit would be enforced, i.e., what happens if someone refuses to cede the floor.
“The Mayor gavels them down and then they are disturbing the meeting and can be arrested,” Peters said.
The new proposal was met with nods of approval from the council, which is willing to give it a shot.
“A lot of times when comments go over five minutes, it’s same stuff being said over-and-over again,” Councilmember Tanya Bradley said. “I think it’s worth trying for a couple meetings just to see how it works.”
City Manager Tim Vick said the policy will be printed on the agenda should the council approve it so everyone can easily read and understand it.
The matter could be voted as soon as the July 22 meeting.
In other news, the council:
• Approved a request to close a portion of South Franklin Street Aug. 31 from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. for a Hawkeye Tailgate and Watch Party hosted by Riverbend Pub and Franklin Street Brewing Company. Mike Corcoran, a proprietor at Riverbend Pub, said there will be a $5 cover and it’s a bring-your-own-lawn-chair event. Corcoran said they are also in talks with the Delaware County Cattlemen to cater the event.
• Moved forward with the sale of a house/property at 132 West Howard. The property was obtained by the city through the abatement process and Peters guessed around $1,000 was spent during the proceedings. Following the public bidding process, Scott and Sarah Hermanson had the high bid of $2,500. Sarah Hermanson is Councilman Dean Sherman’s daughter, so he abstained from the vote. The plan is to tear down the existing structure and build new and a public hearing on the sale itself still needs to be held. The only other bid received was for $100.
• Approved a variance for a sign at Community Savings Bank. The 107-square-foot sign exceeded the city’s 100-square-foot requirement, but it will be the same height as the old sign and located in the same place.