Council revises public remarks policy

The Sequim City Council agreed by consensus at its Aug. 25 meeting to revise the public comment policy for its meetings.

Now public comment will be allowed on any item on the agenda unless it will be the subject of a public hearing later that night.

The previous policy had been to use the public comment period of the meeting for nonagenda items and allow comment only on those agenda items marked with an asterisk.

The issue was brought up by City Councilor Paul McHugh near the end of the three and a-half hour meeting.

"We used to take a lot more public comment and I think we've gotten away from that," he said.

City Councilor Erik Erichsen said the public should be able to comment on anything that will place financial restrictions upon them, such as increases in taxes.

City Councilor Susan Lorenzen said not allowing public comment should be the exception and not the rule. They should state the items they won't take comment on instead of those that they will, she said.

Huizinga said they should ask for public comment on anything except those items that are the subject of a public hearing.

Reached after the meeting, McHugh assessed the council's discussion by saying, "I think the council decided to err on the side of allowing more public comment concerning agenda items.

"My point was we've been spending so much time at the beginning of meetings hearing about issues not on the agenda and many of the asterisk items have disappeared from the agenda," he said.

"We should be receiving comment on action items. The priority should be matters we are taking action on. When I joined there wasn't a formal public comment time on the agenda. Then (then-mayor) Walt Schubert insisted on it about six years ago," McHugh said.

"Now there's very few asterisks left on the agenda. I'm all for public comment but I want to hear about items we are going to take action on," he said.

After the meeting, Schubert said the public comment period was instituted to try striking a balance between hearing from the public and running the meeting efficiently.

"The new group ran on the platform that we didn't listen to the public. Now they need to listen to the public, period," Schubert said.

"They kept saying the old council doesn't listen, they cut off in three minutes. But you have to run a meeting and you've got to get through your agenda," he said.

"We did that (instituted the public comment period) to try to increase the public comment, that was the whole point," Schubert said.

"It's very typical for public officials to be accused of not listening. The public will say you are not listening if you don't do what I said. It's one of those challenges you face as a public official," Schubert said.

Page 10 of the Municipal Research and Service Center's publication "The Open Public Meetings Act, How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties and Special Purpose Districts" contains the following advice to public officials regarding public comment periods at meetings:

"Although the Act gives the public the right to attend meetings, the public has no statutory right to speak at meetings. However, as a practical and policy matter, city, county and special district governing bodies generally provide the public some opportunity to speak at meetings."

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