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Comment policy changes

(ran Beach edition)

The South Pasadena City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to change how the public can speak at its meetings _ simultaneously reducing and expanding the time available for public comment.

"This resolution is a policy statement of the city. If it is not successful, we have the right to repeal it," Mayor Fred Held said.

"We are trying to have the meetings in better order."

The commission insisted it was giving the public more time to speak _ an increase from the previous five minutes to a new total of six minutes. But the practical effect is residents will have 40 percent less time to comment on agenda items.

"Yes, I suppose if you want to look at it that way, it's true," Held said.

"This is a very defensive thing because they are so incompetent," said Al Friend, a former commissioner and frequent critic of the present commission. "It is a subterfuge. I am the guy they are afraid of because I challenge them all the time."

Friend is a member of the self-appointed Citizens for Legislative Oversight and Diligence committee (CLOD) that regularly comments and often castigates the commission for its actions or inaction.

He questioned whether the City Commission is violating the people's right to comment on and participate in the meetings of their elected officials. "This is a problem for the way the commission is relating to its constituents," Friend said.

Before Tuesday, those attending commission meetings could get up at the start of each regular meeting and speak for five minutes each on any topic..

Now, each speaker will be limited to three minutes for all agenda items. Another public forum period will be held at the end of each meeting for comment on non-agenda items. Again, speakers will be restricted to three minutes.

The only exception to the new policy is during officially noticed public hearings on new ordinances. Then, the public can comment at the time the item is taken up for discussion and voted by the commission. Speakers are not restricted by previous time used commenting on other agenda items.

Rules to speak by

Before 1995

South Pasadena residents were allowed to comment on each agenda item as it was discussed, whether at a regular commission meeting or workshop, as well as during a specially designated "public forum."

Since 1995

The City Commission restricted public comments to the beginning of each regular meeting (not workshops) for a total of five minutes per speaker. Comment was allowed on any topic, even if it wasn't on that meeting's agenda. Conflicting city policies both permitted and prevented commissioners from responding to public comment.

As of April 28, 1998

Comments are restricted to three minutes at the beginning of each regular commission meeting for posted agenda items. An additional three minutes per speaker is available at the end of each commission meeting, but not for topics on the posted agenda. Again, no dialogue is permitted between speaker and commission members.