Council tweaks rules, protocol for meetings

Issue of opening mayor’s mail comes up

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published February 15, 2012

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Public comment during Troy City Council meetings will mostly remain as is, although speakers will no longer be limited to three minutes as they have been at times in the past.

The Troy City Council reviewed the rules of procedure during a study session held after the Feb. 6 council meeting.

The public may speak on agenda and non-agenda items during time allotted near the beginning of council meetings for up to five minutes. Sometimes in the past, council has voted to limit that time frame to three minutes if the list of residents wanting to speak was too long.

Mayor Janice Daniels brought forth suggestions that the council consider postponed items before public comment; allow public comment on non-agenda items following that; and allow the public to speak on each agenda item under regular business and on the consent agenda, separately, before the council considered each item.

“One of my goals is to expand public comment and have vibrant citizen participation,” Daniels said. “Public comments before each agenda item gives a better flow than when they are lumped together and gives the citizenry a better opportunity to connect when decisions are made.”

Councilman Dane Slater said that in past years, public comment was split into agenda and non-agenda items at separate times, and then the council put them all together at the beginning of the meeting so people would not have to stay until sometimes midnight to speak.

Mayor Pro Tem Maureen McGinnis said that allowing people to speak one time on all items during the same time frame results in a free flow of ideas.

The council by consensus decided to leave public comment where it is, but to allow each speaker up to five minutes at all times.

The council also voiced concern about Daniels’ request that city staff not open mail addressed to her.

In her position paper on the Troy Transit Center she read into the public record at the Jan. 9 council meeting, Daniels said that city staff opened mail addressed to her without her consent. In his written response to Daniels, Troy City Manager John Szerlag said that as a matter of practice, city clerical staff had opened mail addressed to current and former mayors, city managers and department heads.

He said the only exception to this practice was when it was marked personal and confidential, because some mail is time sensitive and staff could handle much of the correspondence for efficiency. Since that time, city staff had not opened Daniels’ mail. Szerlag said in his response that Daniels is the first mayor to request that mail not be opened.

“In order to protect this city, we need the mail of the mayor and council opened in a timely fashion,” Slater said. “It’s the property of the city.”

Daniels said that she felt “a little violated” when city support staff opened and read 12 letters and cards addressed to her. “It was obviously not city business. … I think they (personal items) can be clearly identified. I feel strongly that’s my mail. I don’t see an issue that I’m not going to be here to open mail — I’m here (at least) two times a week.”

“Nobody’s here to violate anybody’s mail,” Slater continued. “Mail addressed to the mayor not marked personal and confidential should be opened.”

Councilman Dave Henderson said that matters in letters could be handled in some cases immediately. “We’re elected city officials,” he said. “The city has to do business.”

City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhn said that any mail coming into the city is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

“Why put yourself at risk if it’s public information?” Mayor Pro Tem Maureen McGinnis said.

Daniels ended the discussion and agreed to let city staff open mail addressed to her. “It’s not that big of an issue,” she said.

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