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City Council discusses problems with public comments

August 17, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

At recent Hagerstown City Council meetings, public comment sessions have not run like clockwork, but officials hope they soon will after some proposed changes take place.

Whether it's a public hearing on a zoning change or public comments on the latest tax proposal, one rule limits members of the public to five minutes of comments.

The council also recently adopted a new rule to limit the number of people who speak on single topics after individual members of a group advocating for the reinstitution of a fired ice-skating coach strained the rules on meeting conduct.

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But neither rule has been managed as crisply as it should be, City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during a council work session Tuesday.

One problem is it has been the mayor's duty both to time the speakers and try to listen to them, and there is no official timing system. Metzner suggested, and the council agreed, that the city clerk should now keep time for the speakers and signal to the mayor when time is up.

That should only be a temporary fix, because the council agreed to pursue buying a lighted timing device that would show when a speaker's time is up.

Another problem is identifying who is or isn't part of an organized group.

Metzner said that during a recent annexation hearing, some speakers might have been identified as a group even though they hadn't necessarily organized themselves as one. Groups are generally limited, under the new rules, to one or two speakers.

The council agreed that the one- or two-person speaker rule should be used only when it's a clear case that all members of a group have specifically organized themselves for a single issue or all share the same opinion.

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