COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The city of Coeur d’Alene is considering a policy that would limit public comments at City Council and other meetings to residents only, as reported by our news partner, The Coeur d'Alene Press.
The proposal includes 17 rules and conditions, including that comments be restricted to agenda items only and that the public comment period be limited to 30 minutes per meeting.
Councilman Dan English supported restricting comments to city residents.
“If you choose to make your home here and invest, then there’s certain things that come along with it,” he said.
Councilwoman Christie Wood disagreed. She said if a person lives elsewhere but owns property or a business in Coeur d’Alene, or works here, an item before the council could impact them.
“I think there would be circumstances where they would want to speak to us,” she said. “So I’m not really keen on restricting that.”
The policy was reviewed by English, Wood and Amy Evans of the General Services/Public Works Committee on Monday, and will go to the other three members — Councilmembers Dan Gookin, Kiki Miller and Woody McEvers, on May 23. It could go to the City Council for discussion in June.
In recent meetings, nonresidents have shown up to comment on matters before the council. In one instance, when the council was considering accepting American Rescue Plan Act funds, many who commented did not live in the city.
In another case during public comment period, some criticized the work of an artist who was nominated to serve on the city’s arts commission.
There were a few outbursts from the audience at these meetings, which led Mayor Jim Hammond to say they had to be quiet or be removed by police.
Renata McLeod, Coeur d’Alene city clerk and Municipal Services director, said that in December 2020, staff presented a proposed policy on public comment but it was not adopted.
According to a staff report, Hammond recently requested a policy to government public comments be brought back for discussion.
“He has requested that public comment may only be offered by residents of Coeur d’Alene,” according to the report.
Hammond said Wednesday in an email that the city was considering options, "but I doubt you will see much change. We are taking it slow and have received some great input."
McLeod said in reviewing city records, no policy regarding public comments has ever been adopted.
She said following consultation with the city attorney’s office, “it is recommended that the city should have a formal policy if the city wants to impose any restrictions and/or limitations on public comment.”
There were no examples of such a policy in other communities in North Idaho, McLeod said.
“So this would be the first one,” she said.
Some conditions of the proposed policy include:
• Prior to speaking, a member of the public shall state his/her true name and address for the record. Refusal to provide the name or address shall be grounds for denying an opportunity to address council.
• Repetitive comments can be unnecessarily disruptive and unduly time-consuming. The mayor or chair may limit repetitive comments.
• Questions from the public should not be addressed by council or the commission, board or committee members without the permission of the mayor or the chair. It is not the purpose of public comment to engage in a back-and-forth exchange.
• Complaints about staff or others constitute a disruption of the orderly and fair conduct of a meeting by virtue of their irrelevance, tone, and/or manner, and will not be allowed. Complaints about city staff should be addressed privately, through either a written letter, complaint, or phone call to the city administrator.
• Persons violating these rules and disrupting the meeting may be ejected from the meeting room by the mayor or chair after being given a warning.
One person commented on the city's Facebook page that "city council members are SUPPOSED to hear public comment MORE than talk amongst yourselves."
"You guys are clearly afraid of your fellow citizen otherwise you wouldn’t try to sneak this one by us."
Wood said she was not opposed to a policy on public comment but had concerns about some of the conditions such as limiting public comment to 30 minutes.
She has served for years on boards, commissions and the council, and some of their meetings stretched on for hours.
“Sometimes, it’s just that important we listen until everyone is done speaking,” she said.
Wood said keeping comments to agenda items “is reasonable” and suggested the city could have town hall meetings where people could speak on any topic.
English said a policy on public comments needed to be addressed.
“We need a bit of a rulebook,” he said.
English said he felt strongly that comments should be limited to city residents.
“We’re talking about citizenship of the city,” he said.
However, English said he struggled with limiting public comment to agenda items and said he appreciates it when people have “gotten the gumption up” to come before the council.
“At this point, I would be leaning the other way on that one,” he said.
Councilwoman Amy Evans said that a highlight of being a council member is hearing from the community via emails, phone calls and at the podium.
She had reservations about limiting comments to citizens only.
“I’d like to see it open up beyond Coeur d’Alene residents,” she said.
Evans noted that Elevate Academy North in Post Falls previously presented its vision to the Coeur d’Alene City Council.
“I don’t want to limit communication such as that,” she said.
Councilors said while public comment may be limited, people could still contact the city via emails and phone calls and request that items be placed on a council agenda.
“I don’t think that it shuts down discussion,” Wood said. “I think it helps the council focus on the business on the agenda.”
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