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Council Pushes Public Further Down On Agenda

Council Pushes Public Further Down On Agenda

The council passed a motion to amend its rules regarding open comment from the public. The measure limits the amount of times someone can speak at a meeting.

BY RENE THOMPSON

The Albuquerque City Council has pushed the public further down on its agenda, and it has further limited public comment on agenda items.

At its May 2 meeting, the council passed a motion to amend its rules regarding open comment from the public.  The measure limits the amount of times someone can speak at a meeting to two agenda items and once during general comment, for a total of three times and six minutes. Any comments made on agenda items must be relevant to the topic.

During public comments, people will be allowed to talk about anything they want.

The biggest change, however, was where councilors decided to put the public comment period on the agenda for their meetings. Previously, it was high up on the agenda and before what is called the consent agenda.

But on Monday, councilors voted to put the consent agenda before the public comment period. It means that the public will have to wait a little longer to speak during council meetings.

Councilor Isaac Benton, who sponsored the changes, said that often, city workers have to wait hours for the general comment period to end and councilors to get to the consent agenda. The change means that city workers can get home earlier, Benton said.

“Rather than making city workers sit there for hours listening to public comment, we can get that done and out of the way beforehand,” Benton said.

Benton explained that the vast majority of people that come to speak at council meetings don’t usually speak more than one or two times. But the problem is that some people speak at every meeting and every chance they get. That takes up time and makes it difficult to get through the long list of agenda items at every meeting, Benton said.

“The point is that we’re primarily there to do business, and unfortunately, it’s one of the only public forums where people can speak, and obviously we welcome public comment on the action items, but we have a big agenda to act upon,” Benton said. “There is just a massive amount of time spent on the same people speaking again and again on every item, when it’s our time to discuss and debate the issues before voting.”

Councilor Ken Sanchez also discussed the idea of amending the rules further to ban members of the public who have been previously kicked out of meetings at least three times from attending future meetings for six to 12 months.

Council critic Silvio Dell’Angela, who has been kicked out of at least two council meetings in recent months, criticized Sanchez’s proposal. “How do you legally justify that? There is no way that can be made legal, because it’s violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Dell’Angela said.

Sanchez was not available to confirm with ABQ Free Press if he plans to follow through with another amendment to ban members of the public who have been kicked out of meetings. But, Councilor Don Harris did say during Monday’s meeting that before anyone could be ejected, councilors would have to clear it with the City Attorney’s Office to make sure it’s legal.

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Rene Thompson is a staff reporter at ABQ Free Press. Email her at rene@freeabq.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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