Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will consider changes that could include moving the general public comment period to one meeting per month, moving it to the end of each meeting, or something else.
Commissioners hear public comment on agenda items, but they also allow time for general public comment near the beginning of each meeting, when members of the public may come speak for up to three minutes each about items that are not on the agenda.
It has been common in recent years for general public comment and the consent agenda to take up the first hour or more of the commission’s meetings. This is not the first time in the past year that the topic of changing this procedure has come up, though commissioners previously opted just to require that comments be “germane” to the business of the city.
Mayor Lisa Larsen asked her fellow commissioners on Aug. 1 whether they would like to again discuss making changes to public comment procedures. She proposed the commission move its general public comment to the end of meetings; only hold general public comment on the first Tuesday of the month; and designate a specific area in City Hall where the public can record video during meetings.
All commissioners agreed they’d be open to designating an area in the building for community members who would like to record video in order to avoid fire hazards.
Their perspectives varied on Larsen’s other suggested changes, though; some said they would support either moving general public comment to the ends of meetings or holding it during only one meeting per month, but not both. Commissioners have expressed a desire for consistency so that people know what to expect when they want to come speak about regular agenda items.
Tuesday’s meeting agenda does not offer a staff recommendation, but does include a table comparing several other cities’ public comment procedures.
Lenexa allows up to five minutes per person near the end of meetings. “If you make personal, impertinent, or slanderous remarks, or if you become boisterous, you may be asked to leave the meeting,” according to the agenda item.
Wichita also allows five minutes, limited to 30 minutes total, and no speaker is allowed to appear more often than once every fourth meeting. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City allows two minutes per person and up to 45 minutes of total public comment. And Manhattan allows up to 10 speakers to speak for five minutes each during the first meeting of each month.
Boulder, Colorado allows up to 20 people to speak for two minutes each, but signups are required, and if more than 20 people sign up, the city clerk randomly selects 20 people from the pool.20230808-Public-Comment-chart
Lawrence city commissioners have not generally allowed people to speak about items that are on the agenda during general public comment, but rather asked them to wait until the commission reached that item. Now the commission is no longer allowing the public to pull most items from the consent agenda for discussion, but it is not yet clear whether people will be able to speak about consent agenda items during general public comment.
Under state law, commission meetings must be open to the public, with the exception of some executive sessions that are held behind closed doors for legal reasons. Some specific items require the commission to hold formal public hearings and allow comment. But nothing in state law requires the commission to hear general public comment, or to allow comment on most agenda items.
The discussion on changes to general public comment is on the regular agenda, meaning commissioners will likely hear public comment on this item.
Commissioners will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/lawrenceksvideo. Commissioners hear public comment during meetings in person as well as via Zoom; register for the Zoom meeting at this link.
Members of the public can email their comments to email@example.com until noon the day of the meeting. Click here to view the full meeting agenda on the city’s website.