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8:23 PM Wed, Jan. 16th

New council rules will reduce time for speakers

Rules will discourage public participation, say some residents

Residents planning to speak during a Prescott City Council meeting will have a few new rules to comply with in the New Year.

After a Tuesday, Dec. 19, decision by the council, speakers from the public will be required to fill out a card that asks for basic identification information. And once at the podium, they will have slightly less time to talk.

Despite worries by some that the new rules would quell public engagement, the Prescott City Council voted 6-1 to try the new format.

The changes came up briefly at last week’s council meeting, and were back for public comment and a vote this week.

City Attorney Jon Paladini pointed out that the council’s current “rules of procedure” were adopted in 2011.

While noting that most of the proposed changes involved removing practices and policies that the council does not follow, Paladini said the most obvious changes would be with the introduction of the cards, as well as with the time limit for speakers.

According to Paladini, many other area governments already require speakers to fill out an informational card.

Mayor Greg Mengarelli added that the cards would mostly be for the benefit of the city clerk’s office, “to have a clear record.”

Along with the card requirement, the new rules will reduce the time limit for speakers from five minutes to three minutes – a procedure that Paladini is fairly typical. Before taking on the job in Prescott, he said, “I had never seen a five-minute allowance.” Three minutes, on the other hand, “is a common timeframe.”

Councilman Phil Goode, who cast the only vote against the motion for the new procedures, voiced concerns about the time reduction.

“I think the card is probably a good idea,” Goode said. “But limiting it to three minutes is too restrictive.”

Several members of the audience agreed.

Local resident Leslie Hoy told the council she had asked a number of local residents about the proposed change, and most felt that the new rules would discourage people from speaking to the council.

“You should be encouraging greater participation, not less,” Hoy told the council.

But a majority of council members were willing to try the rules, noting that they could opt to extend the time for individual speakers, if needed.

Mengarelli added that the “flip side to this” is that the council should be able to get more quickly to items scheduled later on the agenda, allowing for more participation from people who often leave during lengthy discussions on earlier items.

Other council members pointed out that the procedure could be reviewed and adjusted at a later date, if the new rules are not working.

The new rules will be in effect for the council’s next regular meeting on Jan. 9, City Clerk Maureen Scott said.