Local government facilitating public comments is at the core of two other stories tonight.
At the St. Cloud Times, Jenny Berg reports in Got something to say to City Council? Now you've got more chances:
More public input and less confusion.
Those were the goals of the St. Cloud City Council on Monday when it unanimously approved amending its rules of order to create smoother meetings while increasing the public's chance to comment.
The biggest changes are moving the open forum to the end of the meeting and increasing the number of times residents can speak at open forums.
Residents generally have two opportunities to speak during City Council meetings: public hearings and open forums. Public hearings are comment periods for specific zoning or ordinance changes. Open forums are comment periods for other items.
The former council rules stated residents could speak at open forums for two minutes twice per year.
The new rules remove the annual limit and increase each speaker's time to three minutes. The open forum is still limited to the first five St. Cloud residents who sign up, but non-residents may address the council if there are not five residents participating in the open forum. . . .
The new openness in St. Cloud contrasts with developments in North Mankato. Readers may recall our post, Free speech & Greater MN cities: the rewards for speaking out in North Mankato and Little Falls, about the limits put on citizens' speaking at public meeting in the Nicollet County city.
Now North Mankato city council members are workshopping the notion of public comment periods, KEYC News 12 and the Mankato Free Press report. In North Mankato City Council Attends "Meeting Management" Workshop, KEYC's reports:
The League of Minnesota Cities is visiting North Mankato's city council for a workshop in meeting management.
Residents like Stephanie Jaquette appreciate the League's effort to create a more cohesive bond in the community.
"I'm grateful that they showed up," said Jaquette. "I hope the council heard what they had to say in terms of a transparent process."
The city of North Mankato contacted the League to help improve communications regarding public comment protocol at city council meetings.
North Mankato's recent update to its commenting procedure limits citizens to speaking about items only that are listed on the agenda for the council meeting.
In order to speak on another topic, citizens must get a written request approved by the city's administrator, attorney and mayor.
The new commenting guidelines have caused free speech concerns to rise among North Mankato residents. City officials hope the workshop can provide solutions to the issues raised by the public. ...
At the Mankato Free Press, Trey Mewes reports in Concerns, potential solutions surface during North Mankato public comment workshop:
There was plenty of talk about public commentary but only a few solutions for the North Mankato City Council during a special workshop Monday.
Officials with the League of Minnesota Cities led a wide-ranging discussion over how best to address citizen concerns over the city's recent changes to its public comment policy.
While the council agreed some change was needed, council members didn't address one of the biggest criticisms over its policy: the need for residents to secure prior approval before speaking to the council.
The council approved the more stringent requirements last summer, in part due to a handful of residents who speak at almost every public meeting. Those residents often point out issues they think the city isn't working on or criticize the way North Mankato officials respond to issues.
North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen believes the recent public comment changes are necessary to prevent those critics from harassing the council and staff members over various issues. Critics say it's necessary to keep discussing things so the city pays attention.
"It seems like more of a council vs. community issue," said Circle Pines Mayor Dave Bartholomay, one of the League officials at the workshop.
Read the rest at the Free Press and KEYC.
Photo: Citizens (right) watch as the North Mankato City Council and staff from the League of MN Cities workshops approaches to letting them speak --or not--at council meeting. Photo by Trey Mewes, one heck of a reporter.
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