The City Council agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 1 meeting has been updated with a “Public Comment Period” added.
On Friday, Nov. 27, Hester Petty, a frequent speaker at City Council meetings, emailed Mayor Nancy Vaughan noting the lack of a Public Comment Period on the agenda for the Dec. 1 meeting. Vaughan responded, “I’m sure it was just an oversight. We already have people signed up to speak. It’s not uncommon for the agenda to be updated after it is posted.”
This “oversight” would be akin to sitting down at Thanksgiving dinner with the table laden with all the side dishes and realizing that you forgot all about the turkey.
The primary purpose of the first City Council meeting of the month is to hold a public comment period. On Dec. 19, 2017, the City Council amended the ordinance requiring the City Council to hold a public comment period at every regular City Council to only require the City Council to hold one public comment period per month – the minimum requirement of state law.
The City Council agreed to devote one meeting a month to a public comment period, extending the amount of time people were allowed to speak from three minutes to five minutes and placing no limit on the number of speakers. The only other items on the agenda for those meetings were ceremonial, presentations and setting the date for public hearings.
In July 2019, in an attempt to control the public comment period, the decision was made to hold the first meeting of the month, the only one with the public comment period, off site. Originally it was announced that these meetings would not be televised, but that was amended and they were not televised live, but were taped for a later broadcast on the Greensboro Television Network.
For the 2020 calendar, by a vote of the City Council, noncontroversial agenda items were added to the first meeting of the month in an attempt to reduce the length of the second meeting of the month.
When the City Council started meeting virtually in April, there was no indication on the agenda that people could sign on to the first meeting of the month and speak during the public comment period, and from April through September no one did. This made for some very short meetings.
In October, some speakers such as Petty discovered that although the agenda did not indicate that there was any way for a person to speak during the public comment period, they could speak if they contacted the city clerk.
And on Oct. 6, for the first time since March, the City Council had speakers during the Public Comment Period. There were also speakers at the Nov. 2 meeting.
The agendas for virtual City Council meetings have included instructions for people to speak at public hearings, but did not include those instructions for the public comment period.
The updated agenda for the Tuesday, Dec. 1 meeting, for the first time since the City Council started meeting virtually in April, includes this statement: “Public Comments/Request to speak may be submitted via the City website.”