Shawnee City Council approves new limits on public comments at meetings

Shawnee city council

The Shawnee City Council this week unanimously approved several changes to the city's policy governing the conduct of public meetings. One such change gives the meeting chair, typically the mayor, the right to restrict or limit public comments after 12 people sign up to speak on a specific item. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

The Shawnee City Council has given itself the ability to limit public comments in city meetings, just one of several changes to a city policy governing the conduct of public meetings.

The council unanimously approved the changes related to public comments and a few other policies Monday.

The vote came after more than an hour of deliberations, and the discussion was one of several the city council has had over the past few months about the new conduct policy.

Why is this occurring now?

During Monday’s discussion, no councilmember specifically named the Shawnee Storm, but earlier this year, dozens of members and volunteers with the Special Olympics squad essentially filibustered the public comment portions of multiple city meetings as they pleaded with city officials to provide the team with more administrative support.

Those meetings prompted city leaders to begin exploring ways to adjust the public comments policy.

Based on multiple discussions among councilmembers over the past few months, the city council’s ultimate goals appear to center around ensuring that both members of the public have enough time to speak, but that the mayor or whoever is leading the meeting can also limit public comments if they become repetitive.

Mayor Michelle Distler said she wanted to make sure the policy was effective, fair and consistent.

At the same time, some councilmembers said they wanted to make sure the rules were consistent and efficient for governing meetings, while still avoiding any arbitrary restrictions on individuals’ or groups’ rights to air their thoughts.

“It puts the chair in a tough position, but we’ve done it effectively,” said Mayor Michelle Distler. “In the past, we’ve said, ‘OK, we’ve heard you’re concerned about traffic, property values, crime. Is there any new additional information? And if not, we are well aware of those issues.'”

Changes to public comments policy

To that end, anyone wishing to speak during a city meeting is now “strongly encouraged” to sign up in advance — at least by 12 p.m. the day of the meeting — and anyone planning to give a presentation is also asked to provide their materials to city staff in advance.

Here are the major decisions the council made in terms of Policy Statement 7, the policy governing Shawnee city meeting procedures:

  • Members of the public must provide written testimony and other materials such as a presentation by 12 p.m. the day of a city meeting.
  • Members of the public will still be allowed 5 minutes to speak on any given item or during Business from the Floor (the council can still extend the time).
  • However, the mayor or whoever is chairing the meeting retains the right to limit public comments once 12 people have signed up to speak on a specific item at a meeting.
  • Members of the public who wish to speak are strongly encouraged to sign up in advance, by 12 p.m. the day of the meeting.
  • The chair of the meeting is allowed to authorize members of the governing body to participate remotely during more than two meetings if they have emergency circumstances.

A recording of the meeting is below and on the city website. Discussion begins at 9:53.