Council revises public comment rules

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AUBURN – Future council agendas will have time for public comments on any topic set aside at the end of meeting.

Councilors flopped their traditional regular meeting agenda Tuesday, saying it should streamline the council meetings and make listening to public opinions easier.

“I have talked to a lot of people about this, and they support the change,” said City Councilor Eric Samson.

Citizens will still be able to make comments on issues listed on the agenda, but would have to wait to bring up something new.

Mayor John Jenkins presented the idea to councilors at the Dec. 18 meeting. Putting the public comment period at the end of the meeting keeps councilors fresh for items on the agenda, he said.

But councilors at that meeting said they wanted more information, tabling the matter until city staff could poll other Maine cities and towns and see how they handle public comment.

City Manager Pat Finnigan said she heard from 20 municipalities. Most put comment periods at the beginning of meetings but put time limits on speakers or have them register before hand.

Councilors Tuesday said they didn’t want to go that far.

“I’d rather let them speak as long as they want, but put it at the end of the meeting,” said Councilor Ellen Peters.

Not everyone agreed. Jonathan Labonte of 41 Third St. urged councilors to keep the agenda the way it is.

“There are other ways to make the meetings more efficient,” he said. The change would discourage citizens who want to talk to councilors, making them wait until official business had been settled.

“I don’t think a big developer was ever hurt by having to wait until an open session ended,” he said.

But Councilor Bob Hayes said the city does have a responsibility to people wanting to talk about items on the agenda. Samson said the current system hurts people watching from home, as well.

“Once an open session gets rolling, you never know when it’s going to end,” Samson said.

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