Trying Again On Public Comment
Steubenville Mayor Jerry Barilla is absolutely right to insist that city council members get it right regarding public participation in their meetings. Leaving any ambiguity in rules regarding when people can speak during meetings is inviting disorder.
Preventing that while ensuring members of the public can have their say and have questions answered is the whole purpose of such rules.
Some council members have expressed concern that the public is overly limited in how it can participate in council meetings. To address that, a new set of rules was approved by council, in a 7-0 vote. The thrust of the plan was to allow people to comment on any items discussed during a council meeting, without being limited to topics listed when they signed up in advance to speak.
But Barilla vetoed the changes, making an excellent point in explanation. The mayor noted that the proposed rules amendment did not specify whether members of the public could address topics being talked about by council as they were being discussed — or would have to wait until the normal public comment period just prior to adjournment.
Obviously, timing makes a difference, especially if council is preparing to vote on an issue. A person with something important to say could not influence a vote if forced to wait until after it had occurred.
Some members of council would prefer to leave public comment rules as they are now. They seem to worry about disorder during meetings, and that is understandable.
But the public should have opportunities to ask questions and voice concerns at appropriate times during council meetings. Surely some means of accomplishing that while avoiding chaos during meetings can be found.
Council members should continue to discuss the issue in an attempt to find some means of making that happen.