by Terry Rogers
Milford City Council continued to discuss potential changes to the way meetings may be run in the future. City Solicitor David Rutt explained more details on how council could shift to a consent agenda as well as how Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) rules applied to some of those changes. Council also passed one minor FOIA change unanimously.
“The rules and procedures. There are several sets here. This was this came out of the workshop and identifies first, the order of business. bigger changes so the public hearings will be on Monday. The finance report will be on the second Monday only. And then there will be the breakdown of the different reports,” Rutt said. “Ward reports will be the second Monday only. So those are the primary changes on the order of business for the meetings. Also, then there’s the order of business for the workshops, and then the order of business for the executive committees. Again, these were the results of discussion at the workshop.”
Rutt suggested that council begin allowing him to conduct public hearings and suggested that any applicant who must speak in front of council be told that they must limit comments to 15 minutes. He stated that there may need to be exceptions to that rule if the public hearing was for a complicated matter, but in general, all applicants should keep comments to 15 minutes. Public comment would be limited to a total of 15 minutes with each speaker limited to three minutes to provide comment on agenda items only.
“Under City Council public comment procedures, it says public comment will follow any staff report and any discussion by the city council. That could be read as after every staff report, there’s public comment. And after every discussion by council, there’s public comment,” Rutt said. “I think it just should be reworded that all staff reports, and city council discussion will occur prior to any public comment. But it can be read pretty wide open there. And I don’t think that’s what anybody intended to have at that. But otherwise, this does set forth the guidelines for public comment, which should be made known to the public.”
Councilman Andy Fulton suggested that the rules regarding public comment be sent out to residents in their utility bills and City Manager Mark Whitfield stated that they could put the information into the monthly newsletter. Rutt also pointed out that public comment was not a free flow conversation, meaning council could not respond to the comments. In addition, each person was limited to one time at the podium. When they were finished and returned to their chair, they could not return to add to their comments.
“The other thing is the consent agenda,” Rutt said. “This would be part of the regular meeting. A consent agenda groups items that are not controversial and allows council to only vote one time to approve those items. Executive session will need a motion and then anyone who needs to be in the session will go in. It will be behind closed doors but you have to follow FOIA as to what can be on the agenda. Once the discussion has taken place, you cannot take a vote in executive session. You must go back into regular session. At that point, once the doors are open, is when the motion is made back into open session. The motion is made and any vote that needs to be taken would be.”
Councilman Brian Baer expressed concerns about ward reports only being on the second Monday. He felt that constituents should not have to wait two weeks for their concerns to be brought before council. Councilman Fulton and Councilman Jason James agreed. Councilman James pointed out that they were there to represent the people and that there should be no limits on that representation.
“Here’s my thing. You guys make these motions based on the conversation that occurred in the executive session. So, I don’t know five years down the road, that you’re going to know the conversation was,” City Clerk Terri Hudson said. “I don’t take minutes live. I can’t. I can’t keep up with it during the meetings, so that executive session recordings can be destroyed once the meeting minutes are done because they are on a separate zoom.” She pointed out that she sometimes used the recording of executive sessions to confirm what the motion in open session related to.
Rutt pointed out that the current rules were not to record executive session. However, in order to provide Hudson with better information when the motion was made, he suggested that council give a more detailed motion. Hudson explained that the motions often provided no details but simply stated that council was making a motion based on the discussion in executive session. Councilman James stated that it appeared Hudson just needed more details in order to create accurate minutes.
“It could be something like ‘I move to approve the hiring of Joe Smith, electrical director,’ if that was something discussed in that so you don’t have to go into all the details,” Rutt said. “We move to approve the acquisition of land.”
Council will vote on the final changes to their meeting procedures at a future meeting.
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