Milford City Council considers public commentary policy for meetings

MILFORD — Members of the Milford City Council considered a new public commentary process during their meeting Monday, Dec. 11.

Currently, there is no public commentary period during, before or after council meetings. The public may, however, raise concerns or speak favorably, during public hearings. Councilmembers have expressed communications from constituents who would like to be a part of the process.

City Manager Eric Norenberg explained during the meeting, “In collaboration with the city clerk’s office, both Terry and Christine, we put together a what if or listing of options for expanding public comments and a revised set of rules and procedures of how we operate council meetings.”

Public hearings are required for zoning changes and “specific cases required by state law,” according to Mr. Norenberg. But, he suggested the council could begin to hear public concerns during meetings on four main topics often discussed such as ordinances, resolutions, contractor agreements and purchases over $50,000.

“I think if they come to council, they should be able to speak,” council member Owen Brooks said during the meeting.

Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe chimed in, as well, saying, “We just want to set a rule so everyone can be treated fairly. If they want to speak and give them three minutes, it’s just as important as if they call us during the week.”

The introduction of consent agendas to the Milford City Council may help save time in the agenda for public comments to take place, Mr. Norenberg said.

A consent agenda would be noted on the regular agenda and allow councilmembers to pass more than one item at once, unless they remove an item from the consent agenda to discuss during the meeting.

Vice Mayor Doug Morrow was hesitant to the idea. “It may reduce the amount of time that we discuss things which takes some of the thought process and governance of city council out of it,” he said. “We need that discussion.”

What takes councilmembers more time during discussions, he added, is receiving packets of information just a few days before their meeting.

“Public comment is wonderful,” Councilmember Katrina Wilson said. “But from past experience, it has to be managed. The rules have to be really set because some topics are going to be more important that to other people. It’s come up a few times since I’ve been sitting here and it’s changed a few times. You must be clear with the rules and repeat, repeat, repeat.”

Rules, City Solicitor David Rutt emphasized, are important in opening the meeting up to public comments.

“You cannot say I will let you talk longer because I like what you are saying, but cut off someone else because you don’t like what they are saying,” Mr. Rutt said.

“A lot of municipalities will have a comment section at the very beginning of the meeting and it will say comments on any agenda item. Some will have a separate comment section on non-agenda items. If you start having public comment on each and every item and say three minutes, it can get time consuming. I only know of one municipality that does that and that is Rehoboth. Their meetings last consistently until midnight, they just go on and on. Every other municipality has a from where a person will sign when they come in that says they wish to speak, identify themselves and have the item or topic they wish to discuss.”

After discussing the possibilities, councilmembers requested that Mr. Norenberg work with the city clerks to create a written policy for public comments for resolutions and ordinances.

Items involving purchases and contracts, councilmember Jamie Burk suggested, are usually passed through budget hearings or other committees prior to placement on a city council agenda. Those hearings and meetings are also available to the public.

The next Milford City Council meeting will be Monday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. A rental inspection workshop will be held earlier at 6 p.m. in the council chambers. Both meetings are open to the public.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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