Overland Park councilmembers talk details of possible open mic time at city meetings

Photo credit Teddy Mafia. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Open mic time at Overland Park City Council meetings could end up being limited to 30 minutes at the end of the meeting with participants signing in for a maximum of three minutes apiece, under rules being discussed by a council committee.

The Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee took up the issue Wednesday after hearing a report on how other city and county governing bodies handle open comments.

Overland Park is a rarity among local governments in that it does not have a designated time during council meetings for people to express themselves on any issue. They can talk during designated public hearings, but those comments must be about the agenda item the hearing is for.

The issue arose in August, after some people attending a council meeting were not allowed to finish their comments during a designated public hearing. After initial consideration back then, the council decided to make open mic time part of a bigger review of other council meeting procedures.

FAED committee members Wednesday agreed that the city should offer some time for people to speak on unspecified matters. But some worried about the possible consequences.

For example, committee chairman Dave White mentioned a person in Texas he’d heard about who plays his guitar for five minutes during the comment times. He and other committee members worried about wasting time of the people who came for other items on the agenda and who would have to sit through the comment time.

The consensus was that public comments should be at the end of the meeting, under “new business,” with some committee members suggesting comments be restricted to items related to city business.

Defamation and the live broadcast was another big concern. White worried about the city’s exposure to lawsuit if one of the speakers defames someone and it’s broadcast. That discussion led to questions about whether the video on demand could be redacted.

Councilmember John Thompson said he’d like to see speakers signing up ahead of time, and others added that a pre-meeting signup might help the speaker find a way to resolve his or her problem without having to bring it up at the full meeting.

The committee also generally agreed that public comment should be only at meetings of the full council, with standing committee chairs having discretion to offer it as they see appropriate. And the comments might only be offered during the meetings with lighter agendas which take place about once a month. The meetings heavy on planning commission and economic development items generally take longer making it hard to fit in the open comment time, they said.

The committee only gave its sense of what the rules should be so the staff can start refining their ideas and working on the language. They’ll take it up again at the February meeting, after new council members are sworn in.

The committee will also look at some other details about how the governing body conducts its business. Committee member suggested a review of the various advisory boards that work closely with the city. That might include a reworking of rules on whether advisory board members should adhere to conflict of interest and anti-discrimination policies and whether relatives of sitting council members should be allowed to serve on those boards. However the committee members didn’t give any immediate suggestions for those rules.