Heights council discuss public comment policy, meeting conduct

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — The City Council addressed the its current procedures, conduct and public comment policy during a study session Feb. 7.

On the table was the temporary public comments policy that allows residents to speak before agenda items are voted on during regular and special meetings.

The 90-day trial was first approved unanimously in October to encourage more engagement from residents.

Council members gave their thoughts on making the policy permanent or starting a second 90-day trial. An official vote is scheduled for the Feb. 14 council meeting after the policy is drafted.

Councilman Wassim “Dave” Abdallah said residents should be allowed to speak before agenda items are voted on.

“I personally, strongly believe that we should be able to hear from the residents, if they’re concerned about anything whether I agree or disagree with them,” he said. “I think they have a right to speak and be an outlet for what they have to say. If I’m going to be making a decision on their behalf, about their money. I want to hear what they have to say.”

Council members Thomas Berry, Ray Muscat and Lisa Hicks-Clayton also were in favor of making the policy permanent.

“It hasn’t affected us in 90 days, we’ve come to the conclusion it’s not overbearing the council,” Berry said. “I like the idea that if something is in the agenda and we don’t know about that, someone can enlighten us on it before we make a decision.”

The initial idea was brought up by Hicks-Clayton when she drafted and presented a letter to other council members Sept. 11.

“Obviously I support hearing from the residents,” she said. “I think its very important when we represent them, they should have an opportunity to speak and there are guidelines for speaking that items are only on agenda. I would like to see it as a permanent change to our procedure.”

In contrast, Councilwoman Marge Horvath asked to try the public comment policy for another 90 days to see if more residents will use the opportunity to speak.

“There’s a lot of different ways to run the meeting, that’s up to us to see if people use it or don’t use it after 90 days,” Councilman Robert Constan said.

As for the three-minute rule which limits residents who speak during meetings, the council agreed to keep the limit and make exceptions if needed.

“We have to be cautious and speak with one voice through the proper channels because we’ll get ourselves into trouble,” Constan said. “If it is an ordinance question then some discussion might need to happen.”

Berry said consistent time management is important so public comments go smoothy during meetings.

“If person is not getting what they need to get, I will speak up and say something,” he said. “I do not want to take over the meeting from the chair, so good meeting control is necessary from the chair.”

Finally, the council touched on the uproar that took place with members of the audience during a meeting on Dec. 13.

Residents reported that Horvath’s son Patrick “talked, jeered and intimidated disabled residents while they were talking at the podium” near the end of the meeting.

Horvath said that was not the case and that her son and his friend clapped when she made a statement regarding the new trash cans given to residents.

“Lisa (Hicks-Clayton) pointed at my son and his friend while asking Ray (Muscat) to have them thrown out of the meeting, so my son pointed back,” she said. “Then Ray said, ‘Don’t you point at her. Talk to me,’ to my son.”

She also said her son didn’t make comments about disabled residents.

After the Dec. 13 meeting, Patrick Horvath approached the council table then allegedly pointed and yelled at Hicks-Clayton.

Then, Muscat reportedly stood up and confronted Patrick Horvath before Police Chief Lee Gavin was called back into the council room.

As a result of the Dec. 13 public confrontation, the council agreed they would listen to residents and then direct them to the proper department for assistance.

“We can’t resolve all the issues that come up here,” Muscat said. “We can lead them to the right people. Maybe we just let them talk.”

“Every situation is different,” Hicks-Clayton said. “We can summarize the problem back to them so they know we understand it and then direct to them right person to get it resolved.”

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