Three Minute Rule at City Council

Sean KendallGood Governance

PLAN-Boulder County members have spoken to Council hundreds of times during the public participation portion of City Council meetings. While we appreciate the concerns expressed by some City Council members about the content and conduct of public participation, City Council members are our elected representatives, and public participation is an efficient way for Council members to hear from their constituents. Council members and City staff always have the opportunity to rebut anything said by the public. One of the most important reasons for citizen participation is to provide transparency and open communication with our elected representatives.

PLAN-Boulder County respectfully asks that the City Council and members of the Special Committee for Public Participation maintain the current rules that permit three minutes per person and up to five minutes for pooled time. We also request that public participation continue to start at 6:00 pm and run for the designated 45 minutes, should 15 people sign up.
We understand the desire to streamline meetings so that Council can end its business at a reasonable hour but we don’t believe that public participation should be shortened. It is difficult enough to speak to one’s points in three minutes. We also oppose the following suggestions (taken from the Council Retreat material) to:

  • move to two minutes as a default and three minutes for pooling time,
  • hold public participation on a night other than the Tuesday night Council meeting,
  • hold public participation from 5:30 to 6:00 pm, or
  • impose a system of shuffling the sign-up sheets to discriminate against frequent speakers at public participation.

None of these measures would improve the Council’s ability to serve the public.
It is a privilege to live in Boulder where we have such an engaged citizenry and where the opportunity to speak before our City Council has played such an important role. We believe that public participation can be streamlined without infringing on the time already allotted to public participation. We offer the following suggestions for improving the process:

  • Require order in the room and require speakers to address issues generally related to City business.
  • Encourage pooled time, perhaps by going back to allowing 2 persons to pool for a 5-minute slot, which will streamline meetings because of the generally higher quality and clearer focus of pooled presentations.
  • Further improve the process for public participants to present written or illustrative material to Council, and to show materials on the video system.
  • Explore avenues for more inclusive participation by members of our community who have barriers to speaking at the meetings. Consider implementing technology that could gauge the crowd’s input, particularly on hotly contested issues, which would both broaden the voices ‘heard’ by Council and satisfy some who may have otherwise used public participation time. The City should consider using tools like www.polleverywhere.com. It’s a low-cost, interactive polling tool that allows people to text in their votes, and then instantly aggregates and displays results. This doesn’t require any special hardware and could incorporate input from people watching Council meetings from home.

We believe that public participation provides council with valuable information and builds much good will in our open, engaged community.

Thank you for considering this important request.

Sincerely,

Pat Shanks, Co-chair
For the Board of PLAN-Boulder County