Public comment period to return at Alexandria City Council
Rules of decorum are needed to ensure that council meetings are “professional, courteous and efficient," says resolution.
ALEXANDRIA – After more than two years of not having a public comment period at the beginning of its meetings, the Alexandria City Council is bringing it back.
At its Monday, Jan. 23 meeting, the council passed a resolution that establishes rules of decorum for public participation in the meetings. A public comment period will be added to the beginning of the agenda, following the moment of silence the council has been observing.
The council voted to discontinue the public comment period in October 2020 after several speakers used the time to raise allegations against Todd Jensen, a council member who was up for re-election.
The resolution said that although city council meetings are generally open to the public because of open meeting laws, the meetings are “not a forum for public expression.” The council, however, recognizes that public engagement is essential to effective city governance, the resolution states.
Rules of decorum are needed to ensure that council meetings are “professional, courteous and efficient and are run with the city’s best interests in mind,” the resolution said.
The rules of decorum are two pages long and contain 25 rules. Some highlights:
- The council may upon majority vote suspend the public comment period, change its agenda placement, and/or take such other such actions it deems to be in the public interest.
- Except during public hearings or other circumstances required or allowed by law, comments from members of the public attending a City Council meeting are restricted to the public comment period.
- To speak during the public comment period, speakers must sign up and provide a name, address, and a brief summary of the subject matter they wish to address before the meeting is called to order. They must be recognized by the presiding officer before speaking and must speak from the podium or microphone provided.
- The use of audio or video recordings, audio-visual presentations, and other such methods of sharing information during the public comment period is not allowed.
- The public comment period shall not exceed 15 minutes, and speakers will be limited to three minutes of speaking time each.
- For data privacy reasons, the public comment period must not be used as a forum for raising issues relating to any city employee. Concerns about city employees should be directed to the mayor, the city administrator and/or the city’s human resource director.
- Anyone attending a council meeting, including those who speak during the public comment period, must not engage in any conduct that disrupts the meeting or threatens the safety or security of the public, such as threatening, loud, or boisterous conduct; extraneous conversation; or actions that interfere with any other individual’s ability to see or hear council proceedings. Obscene, defamatory, and threatening language is strictly prohibited.
- Speakers who agree with a point made or issue raised by a previous speaker are encouraged to simply indicate their agreement and avoid repetition.
- No individual may hold, display, wear, or place any banners, placards, signs, objects, or other materials in any way that endangers others, prevents the free flow of individuals within the chamber, or obstructs or prevents the viewing or hearing of the meeting by others.
- Even though council meetings may be broadcast or streamed via the internet, no “virtual” public comment will be allowed. Public comment participation must be in person.
- As a general matter, the council will not act on issues raised during the public comment period. They may be referred to the appropriate city staff or official for further consideration and report back to the council or to the individual.
- Council members will not engage in dialogue with speakers during the public comment period.
- Taking photographs and audio and video recordings of council meetings is allowed from any seat within the council chamber or from the rear of the council chamber, provided that those actions do not obstruct any other person’s view or hearing or otherwise disrupt the meeting.
- Speakers and other members of the public who do not follow these rules or the direction of the presiding officer will be warned that further violations or disruptive conduct will result in removal from the meeting.
- Most regular Council meetings are recorded, and those recordings are generally public data. Therefore, people attending these meetings, whether virtually or in person, must be aware of how their comments and behavior at the meetings will appear and be preserved for public scrutiny.
The council approved the public participation rules of decorum 5-0.