Fairway adopts public meeting policy to expand public comment, align with current practices

The public meeting policy expanded on Fariway Mayor Melanie Hepperly's current practices, which were more lenient than the former written public comment policy. File photo.

The Fairway City Council on Monday evening adopted a public meeting policy to expand and align its public comment language with current practices.

The adoption comes after an administration committee review — conducted after a May city council meeting in which the public sometimes repeated similar points — found the city’s public comment policy did not reflect current practices. Mayor Melanie Hepperly tabled a formal decision in June on an updated policy draft after it drew criticism from both the city council and the public.

Hepperly said the phone calls and emails she’s received made it clear that some listened and heard her concerns at the June meeting, and others listened and misunderstood. She addressed comments about the proposed policy being a “big change” for the public interaction with the city council, and it not being the right time for the city to consider limitations to public comment.

“That is not at all what I was doing,” Hepperly siad. “I was not making limitations to the current practice, I had actually loosened those public comment opportunities and made them more readily available to the public.”

Below is an overview of the changes to the city’s public meeting policy, as outlined by city documents:

  • Regular city council meetings will include a “governing body comments” agenda item, at which point governing body members can speak on city-related issues. Members are limited to five minute comments, though there are no limits on the discussion related to the comment.
  • Formal action will not be taken.
  • There will be public comment prior to the consent agenda consideration pertaining only to items on said agenda.
  • Initial public comments will be limited to four minutes, and the public can add a one-minute follow-up comment per public comment period.
  • The mayor or council president can limit speaker time at their discretion, so long as it is reasonable and is not limited in a way that expresses disagreement with the speaker.
  • Public comment can be submitted in writing by 5 p.m. on Monday before the meeting via email. It will not be read into the record, but will be attached to the meeting minutes. The governing body will also receive a copy of the comment prior to the meeting.

The policy did not change council committee chairs’ authority to decide whether or not the meeting will have public comment. Additionally, planning commission meetings and board zoning appeals do not have public comment policies, Hepperly said.

Fairway resident Michele Kiehl suggested the city look into a written public comment policy for the planning commission. City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier said the city was previously advised by a former city attorney to not allow public comment at planning commission meetings since members are not elected, but are appointed.

Councilmember Jenna Brofsky suggested notifications about council committee meetings include the chair’s contact information so public comments can be recorded. Councilmember David Watkins suggested a city staff member be in charge of such record keeping, to which Hepperly and the city council agreed.

The city council unanimously approved the public meeting policy.