Heights council OKs trial period for early public meeting comments

Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — The Heights City Council approved a 90-day trial period to allow residents to speak before agenda items are voted on during regular and special meetings.

Members voted unanimously to approve the temporary policy for agenda during the during the Oct. 11 council meeting.

“This is very good because we want to encourage citizen engagement comments before we vote,” Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton said. “I don’t see the harm. I only see the benefit of giving our residents the opportunity to tell us something.”

At the meeting, Councilman Joseph Kosiniski asked for examples of benefits from the change in the meeting policy.

Councilman Bob Constan cited having limited discussion relating to the agenda at the beginning, less waiting for residents attending for certain items and that other cities have successfully implemented the same rule as the top three reasons for the policy.

Kosiniski said that even if residents comment at the end of meetings, the council is still in session, but Councilwoman Marge Horvath said it would be more difficult to go back and change items after late citizen input.

“The public has asked for it, they’ve demanded it, so we’re going to try it out and see how it works,” Horvath said. “In that three-month period we can iron out any glitches and at the end of they 90 days we will revisit.”

The initial idea was brought up by Hicks-Clayton when she drafted and presented a letter to other council members Sept. 11. A study session was held Sept. 20 regarding the change.

Under the new meeting procedure, residents will have the chance to speak or ask questions about agenda items with a three-minute time limit.

“I, for one, would want to know what the people think before I vote, as far how residents of our community feel about a particular subject,” Councilman Dave Abdallah said. “We have to keep in mind we are voting on the behalf of the people and for the people and therefore that’s a variable that’s very, very important to be able to hear.”

If adopted full time, the newly added public comment time will follow the roll call, Pledge of Allegiance, agenda approval and approval of minutes.

“People have a voice in this government, and we’re supposed to be that voice for them, but if we don’t listen to them they have no voice,” Councilman Ray Muscat said. “We have to give them the voice and opportunity. I said that many times at that podium myself, why aren’t we allowed to speak on what’s being voted on?”

The council currently allows residents to speak after the agenda items have been completed, and this will remain, giving the public two opportunities to address issues.

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)