Royal Oak City Commission reduces public comment from 5 to 3 minutes

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 16, 2018

 On April 9, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 5-2 to reduce its public comment time limit from five minutes to three minutes, based on a recommendation from a parliamentarian and a survey of surrounding communities.

On April 9, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 5-2 to reduce its public comment time limit from five minutes to three minutes, based on a recommendation from a parliamentarian and a survey of surrounding communities.

Photo by Sarah Wojcik

ROYAL OAK — On April 9, the Royal Oak City Commission voted 5-2 to reduce its public comment time limit from five minutes to three minutes. The resolution included the caveat that the commission would revisit the rule in four months if any problems arise.

Commissioner Patricia Paruch, who made the motion, said the move stemmed from a recommendation by parliamentarian Eleanor Siewert and a look into the public comment time limits of surrounding Oakland County municipalities by Clerk Melanie Halas.

Earlier in the year, Siewert advised the City Commission on the rules and procedures of parliamentary procedure during a workshop meeting. During a March 8 meeting, the rules committee discussed the public comment time limit in detail, according to Halas.

“One of the things that (Siewert) noted in terms of her review of our rules was that our time of public comment, at least for the City Commission, that five minutes was very generous compared to other communities,” Paruch said.

She said 12 people could be heard in an hour with a five-minute time limit if they take up the full amount of time, while 20 could be heard in an hour with a three-minute time limit.

Halas said in a memo to commissioners that, out of 59 jurisdictions in Oakland County, seven allow five minutes of public comment.

“The majority have a three-minute time limit rule. A couple of jurisdictions have no time limit,” the memo states.

The memo also stated that Royal Oak’s other boards and committees, including the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals, subscribe to a three-minute public comment time limit.

“We’re doing things. We have a lot of things happening in our city and a lot to discuss, and public comment is important,” Commissioner Kyle DuBuc said. “If we want as much input as possible from as many people as possible, we cut this by 40 percent and get a lot more people, perhaps a more diverse representation of the community.”

He said the City Commission has recently seen an outpouring of residents on issues such as Normandy Oaks, and people had to leave before getting the opportunity to speak because they had to put children to bed or begin an evening shift.

“They don’t have the ability to be here as some do for every City Commission meeting,” DuBuc said. “I’m willing to suffer the insults and accusations, but at the end of the day, what this does is get more people in front of us and get more voices to the table as we discuss many important pieces of business that this city is working on right now.”

Commissioner Sharlan Douglas said that, during a Normandy Oaks Task Force meeting at the library, the meeting ran long and public comment was limited to two minutes.

“People cut to the chase, skipped the preliminaries, said what they liked and didn’t like and were very concise in what they had to say,” Douglas said. “I’m equally confident the three-minute rule will be effective.”

Commissioner Melanie Macey voted in favor of the resolution, although she said she would like to see a three-minute public comment section on agenda items before the regular agenda and a three-minute public comment section on non-agenda items after the regular agenda.

Commissioners Randy Lavasseur and Kim Gibbs opposed the time limit reduction.

Lavasseur said he did not think the three-minute rule was necessary at all meetings, and Gibbs said she thought residents should have five minutes to speak because “now looking at it from a different perspective, it’s important we hear the voices of the voters, residents and taxpayers.”

“No one is talking about ending public comment,” DuBuc said.

He added that public comment at meetings is not the only way for residents to communicate their messages.

Mayor Michael Fournier said he thought the policy was paramount to the city’s democracy.

“We talked at length about this at the rules committee,” he said. “It’s working for every other community. I suspect it should work for Royal Oak. If it doesn’t, we can revisit it. It’s not a permanent decision.”

Several residents spoke against the time limit reduction.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just another example of trickle-down totalitarianism,” Bill Harrison said. “I always warned that socialism ends in a dictatorship.”

Others, however, were in favor of the measure.

“Last week, I was in Beverly Hills. It had no limit. That was extremely painful. People went on for, I think, maybe 20-30 minutes,” Mick McGuire said. “I think that three minutes is more than adequate to say your point.”