Dear Council, Mayor Ginger Nelson, and City Manager Jared Miller,
Howdy. I'm writing this open letter, to be published in the Amarillo Pioneer, as a substitute for speaking at this week's public comment. Though I do prefer the face to face interaction of in person public comment, scheduling conflicts kept me from speaking this week.
As I have noted before, the public comment meetings have again and again ended well before they are scheduled to, despite instances where speakers are called upon but do not show up when called. As of writing this, this has now occurred for four weeks in a row. It is self evident that some of these speakers may not be able to show up until the latter half of the hour, after the meeting has already ended. Effectively, this causes a situation where those who are unable to show up until the later half of the hour are unable to speak, despite arriving during the time frame the meeting is advertised to take place. I've complained about this for weeks now, but I also have a potential solution.
Since moving the public comment to its own hour long meeting, only about half of the hour has ever been used. The solution then, in my opinion, is to divide the extra time left by speaking slots which were not filled equally between the speakers who did sign up. Of course, a 3 minute minimum should be kept, but, for example, if only 10 speakers sign up, each of the 10 should be given 6 minutes. This plan has two very positive advantages. Number one, it means that the meetings will come closer to filing the hour, allowing concerned citizens with less flexible schedules to be able to speak. To illustrate, let's assume that, 12 speakers sign up for the public comment period one week. Let's also assume that a speaker is unable to show up until 12:45. Under the current system, the meeting would end at about 12:33, preventing a person who had signed up to speak from being able to do so. Under my proposed solution, each of the speakers who signed up would be able to speak for 5 minutes. Thus, the meeting without the missing speaker would last until about 12:55, meaning the meeting is still going on when the missing speaker arrives. Number two, it allows concerned citizens to be able to more effectively present their comments.
Of course, issues with rounding the divided time and allowing time for the opening of the meeting will need to be worked out, but I'm confident our council will be able to overcome those challenges. Now, this won't fix all of the issues with the current structure, and I would still like to have the meetings moved to evenings, but, in the meantime, implementing this partial solution will hopefully help alleviate some of the issues with the current structure.
Amarillo Pioneer Columnist