3 Minute Rule

As long as I am in the mood to write half-assed mea culpas, this will be a good time to agonize a bit more over the 3 minute rule. As I have thought about it and thought about it over the last several days, I can certainly see arguments on both sides. Since there is really no correct answer, the existence of differing, valid points should surprise no one.

And, in the end, I guess I remain weakly opposed to the rule. The last grain of sand on the scale, so to speak, was seeing the rule in action. The vision of seeing a concerned citizen forcibly removed from a public meeting beckons one to thoughts of other systems of governance besides our open and participatory form.

Let me start, though, with the opposing premise. City Officials should not be required to listen to speeches ad nauseum, unrelated to the jurisdiction or interests of the City. (In fact, I complained about this in instances involving our former Mayor's willingness to allow the anti-gambling contingent to rail against gambling, something over which City Government has no power.) It seems to me, though, that the Commission has the power to limit irrelevant discourse with or without a time limit.

Wolfpack, then, raises an interesting point in this regard. Am I "suggesting that speaker’s time be limited based on content at the mayors discretion?" Yes. And no. I am suggesting that if a speaker is making a comment on a point relevant to some issue under the City's consideration, the speaker must be given some latitude beyond a time limit. If, on the other hand, a speaker's points are wholly unrelated to any topic over which the City has the power of governance, then I am not so sure the speaker has a right to address the City Commission at all.

I am very hesitant, too, to fall into Wolfpack's trap about the "quasi-mentally ill." Perhaps this is because I no doubt fall into the category of crackpot in the minds of many. I refuse to marginalize differing viewpoints as "crazy" or "mentally ill" no matter how off base I think they are. You see, whispering campaigns of marginalization are abhorrent, and merely represent a way to exclude opposing viewpoints from the discussion.

Let's consider a couple examples. First, there is Johnny Angry. I am sure he fits into the "you know who they are" category. Why is his right to participate any less than some other citizen? Is it because you disagree? Because he makes an effort to participate at every meeting? Because he is sort of funny? Because his themes remain the same?

How about another example, our sometimes frequent commenter, Larry Kralj. (No offense Larry) Larry often uses 'colorful' language, peppered with hyperbole, and makes up funny names for public figures. Does this impact his credibility with some readers? Absolutely. Should it impact his ability to make his statements? No, not as long as he veers free of libel.

There is also a risk of manipulation of public input. How? By placing a contentious matter on the "Consent Agenda," thereby removing the right to comment on it. If someone, like Susan Overfield, has strong feelings on an important issue, her ability to make her point has been arbitrarily limited by...whom? Who decided that the Animal Shelter issue should be on the consent agenda that week? Who decided, then, that she was to receive only 3 minutes?

Speaking of manipulation, remember that the City Government has no similar limitations. Officials can speak without limit on topics, they invite others in to speak without limitation, yet the public can be limited. A Commission meeting is a fairly controlled environment, and there is at least the perception that it can be manipulated by government to limit cogent input and reach a predetermined result.

This 3 minute rule is a tough question. There is no correct answer. I agree that every speaker should be able to make his or her point in 3 minutes or less. But for the reasons set forth above, I still think it is a bad idea.


WolfPack said...

Well said. I think it's only the Johnny Angry types where we diverge. Many people including myself are hesitant to speak at commission meeting for fear of being labeled a Johnny Angry wannabe. The circus atmosphere that these people create prevents many serious citizens from participating in the process for fear of guilt by association. I also agree that the most serious limitations on public input happen during the drafting of the meeting agenda. I also think all documents provided by staff to commissioners should be made readily available to the public weeks before any public meeting.

david said...

Excellent, GeeGuy -- your essay echoes my thoughts almost exactly.

Anonymous said...

The challenging mayoral candidates seem to feel the Stebbins 3 minute process is unfair.

Kahn said she thinks city government should be open and responsive to people. "In my view, a three-minute speech limit during city meetings shows intolerance," she said. "City meetings need to be approachable to our citizens without prejudice, intimidation or limits to free speech."

Mcknight termed "ridiculous" the City Commission's current three-minute limit on general public comments at commission meetings.

Steele said he has heard many complaints about "the way that the mayor has been conducting the meetings." "They think their First Amendment rights have been stripped from them," Steele said of those making the comments.

We already know where Dona weighs in. This will be the straw to break her back. She will be voted out; would have been sooner in a primary.

Anonymous said...

No offense taken, Geeguy! You see, you guys must humor my eccentricities, for I'm an old fart. I probly don't have much time left to raise hell. And I DON'T want my grandchildren breathing in toxic crap from Lotten's Folly! That's all. But I am for unfettered free speech too. Sure, it's a scary thing. But like I mentioned, I've been to hundreds of public meetings of one sort or another. And I'm continually amazed at the body of wisdom that resides within the people themselves. Guess that I've been lucky to not have encountered too many of the mentally ill types, although there was a woman in a Billings city council meeting about thirty-five years ago that testified that she was SO concerned about the transmittal of disease to her pets, that she required everyone who entered her house to remove their clothing so that she could spray it with Lysol! Wish I could remember her name. So yeah, they're out there. Crazies that is. But while you're googling, google Crazy Wisdom some time. Even THESE folks might be worth listening. Seriously, some cultures rever their crazy people. This might cause you to be a bit more lenient with that short, fat little dude that shows up at our city councils meetings. I see some crazy wisdom there! And yes, he's "colorful".

Anonymous said...

Your posts have forced me to refresh my memory on debate

Anonymous said...

Nice site. I like that Logical Defense of Faith in Spanish. Good reading.