(St.Joseph,MO) The protocol for sharing opinions at the podium of the city council chambers won’t be changing any time soon. A proposed ordinance to alter the rules for addressing the council during public comments in regular council meetings was shot down Monday with a 2-7 vote, after several people came forward speaking out against the potential change.
Councilwoman Brenda Blessing voted in favor of implementing new rules for public comment, but said the intent behind the proposed changes might have gotten lost in the meeting.
“I understand what the people where saying tonight, and I applaud what they are saying. I want them to have a chance to speak, I think it was just the idea of wanting civility,” Blessing said.
Devon Shewell spoke out against the changes, drawing attention to a section of the proposed ordinance that encourages individuals who are grouped by the same issue to choose a spokesperson to represent them.
“As a result of this change, it becomes exponentially harder for individuals to express individual concerns about some of the most complex policy changes that ultimately affect our city,” Shewell said.
Shewell also objected to section six of the proposed ordinance requiring all remarks be made to the council as a whole instead of to individual council members.
“I should have the right to question the decisions which are made by individual council members, as should any other resident,” Shewell said. “This ordinance makes it exponentially harder for true public forum and discussion. By eliminating the opportunity for a direct clash of ideas between those directly responsible for the passage of those ideas, the purpose of this council is no longer a representation of the community.”
Blessing said the changes weren’t suggested to limit free speech, but to make the council and audience be more mindful of their behavior.
“I understand not everyone understood what we wanted it for. I think everyone got a little nervous and a little afraid what was going to be happening and that was not the intent of it,” Blessing said. “It wasn’t only for the people out in the audience, but council members as well. We all need to be more respectful to each other; not speaking over each other, not speaking to people out in the crowd,” Blessing said.
Instead of passing the ordinance, the council agreed to be more strict in enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order and time limitations for public comment during council meetings.