City Council puts public comment on three-minute clock

By Fawn Porter/Staff Writer

A limit on the amount of time residents can speak at City Council meetings garnered enough Council support Tuesday night to pass, despite opposition from Mayor Jeff Landrith who called the city a “special place” that didn’t need to follow policies adopted by other communities.

Landrith said he was “strongly against” any measure that would hinder residents from being able to address the Council, especially since city officials already had the power to limit discussion with a motion, he said.

The motion to limit the public hearing portion of City Council meetings to three minutes per person, which, according to an Oklahoma Attorney General’s opinion, was acceptable under the state’s Open Meeting Act and was recommended by city staff.

The request came at the behest of Councilwoman Kathleen Moon last month after a resident spoke for about 15 minutes during public hearing. Moon said then it was the second time the same resident has spoken for about that length of time.

“I am strongly for this (time limit),” Moon said, while Landrith argued that limiting residents speaking time could offend them.
He said sometimes people who speak aren’t accustomed to addressing a body such as the Council and it may take “60 seconds to collect their thoughts,” adding since he’s been mayor, he estimated the average amount of time it took a resident to address Council was about four to five minutes.

City staff suggested the meeting chairman — in this case Landrith — have the right to “lengthen or reduce the three minutes when reasonable and proper.”

Councilman Scott Gibson said he was in favor of the three-minute rule, but thought it should be left at that, without giving the chair any latitude in lengthening or reducing the allotted time.

Moon referred to Oklahoma City’s public hearing rules where anyone wishing to speak had to be on the agenda and had to stick to the topic they were slotted to speak on.

But Landrith said Mustang was a “special place” and didn’t need those rules.

“It doesn’t need to be that special,” Moon said.

The attorney general’s opinion said the state’s Open Meeting Act did not guarantee residents the right to participate in the governmental decisions being made at a meeting or the right to express their views.

“The rights to speak, associate and petition guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution do not require that government policymakers listen to or respond to individual communications on public issues, or that interested members of the public be afforded an opportunity to present their views on the matters being considered by the government policymakers,” the opinion said in commentary summary. “When a public body voluntarily establishes an open forum, it may establish reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”
The motion to approve the three-minute limit passed 5 to 2, with Landrith and Councilman Jay Adams dissenting.

In other business, the City Council passed a measure deleting a “use on review” measure in commercial districts. By deleting the measure, potential uses of commercial property not listed in city ordinances must go through the city’s special use permitting procedure — first to the city planning commission then to the City Council for final approval.

“As more and more commercial (and residential) land is developed throughout the city, it is important for a high level of scrutiny to be placed upon decisions made about land uses that are not already included in our table of permitted uses,” City Planner Melissa Helsel said.

Council passed the motion unanimously and an emergency clause, making the ordinance effective, was passed by a 6-1 vote, with Gibson dissenting.

During executive session, Council members approved purchasing about $50,000 worth of land behind the Mustang Fire Department. Mayor Jeff Landrith said the land would be used as additional space for the fire department.

In other City Council business, members:

  • Approved a supplemental appropriation to the general fund budget in the amount of $3,000 to repair lights in Curtis Park after thieves stole copper wiring. This amount covers what insurance did not;
  • Proclaimed Oct. 31 “Trick or Treat” night in Mustang.
  • Made a supplemental appropriation to the general reserve fund in the amount of $9,983 for seating upgrades for Council chambers.

3 minutes...

sounds to me like the council as a whole wishes to run our town in a very iron fist fashion. the government should use the concerns of the people to shape and design the future paths of Mustang. i don't feel that putting a limit of any kind on our right to speak our concerns is keeping in the best interests of those who elected this group of people to form the body of this council.

3 minutes?

The Mayor is correct, and the council members who voted for it should be running a banana republic in South America.

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