Speakers at Arlington City Council may have less time to talk under proposed public comment change
City council asked for a proclamation that would require speakers to register online by 10 a.m. the day of the meeting if they want to address the council at the end of evening meetings. The proposal would also limit speakers to 1 or 2 minutes.
Mayor Jim Ross asked city staff for solutions to curtail hurtful rhetoric that had popped up in the previous several months.
Among the examples included members of Stedfast Baptist Church suggesting members of the LGBTQ community should be killed; Library Advisory Board meetings that contained anti-gay and transgender rhetoric; and a May meeting during which YouTube personality Alex Stein performed a rap describing abortion in graphic detail.
"We've had people come to council with hate speech about abortion, about women, about racism, about bigotry, about Gay Pride," Ross said during the Nov. 29 meeting. "I want to make sure that we're doing everything in our power as mayor and council to not tolerate hate speech."
The proposal, which council discussed Tuesday, would limit individual comment to two minutes if 25 or fewer people preregister, and one minute if more than 25 speakers sign up. It would also outlaw props like signs and audio speakers. Members of the public would still be able to bring up prewritten remarks or hand documents to council.
The changes to public comment would not affect the signup and time requirements for specific agenda items. That means people can still sign up in the chambers if they wish to speak about a proposed ordinance or zoning case.
Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, said the 10 a.m. registration deadline may prohibit people from approaching the podium who feel compelled to speak at the last minute.
"I think we kind of address the concerns by the time limit proposal that's in here," Piel said.
Ross and others disagreed.
He said the time restraint would allow staff to interact with people who have signed up, and people who miss the deadline can try again next council meeting.
"It gives staff an opportunity, even if it's a few hours, to resolve issues that they otherwise would not have," Ross said.
Bowie Hogg, at-large District 7 council member, said he and other council members regularly make themselves available and offer up their cellphone numbers.
"I don't think this is about limiting. I think we're very accessible ... I do believe it's about allowing staff that time to be able to access and work with those individuals who do have some major issues that need to be addressed."
Barbara Odom-Wesley, at-large District 8, said the time limit would allow council time to set up accommodations for people who need them.
Molly Shortall, city attorney, said in an email she anticipates city council will vote on the proposal March 7.
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