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Eliminating public comment?
Tonight, the Monroe County Plan Commission will consider whether or not to eliminate a public comment time from their meetings.
Units of government (like a Plan Commission or a City Council) are required by state law to have a public comment time on items on the agenda. They are not, however, required to have a general public comment time where people from the public can speak on anything, including items not on the agenda.
I don't have a problem with the public comment time for general issues, and I think it can be an effective way to publicly lobby elected officials. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee used it last year to lobby for a resolution to oppose the Patriot Act, which was later passed by the City Council. I've used the general public comment time on several occasions.
However, while I would not personally vote to eliminate a general public comment time, I don't have a big problem with eliminating it. I do see how the general public comment time has, in some cases, been abused. There are other ways to make a point publicly, and it is important to remember (as I mentioned above) that public comment time is not being eliminated.
I like what the Monroe County Council did with its general public comment time, in moving it to the end of the meeting. (General commentary by County Council members is also at the end of the meeting.) I think the City Council would do well to consider a similar move, since the general public comment time (and especially general commentary by City Council members) at City Council meetings can go quite a long time. There's no real harm in holding public comment on items not on the agenda until the end of the meeting.