Time allotted for public comments in California cities

No change was made after a recent proposal to limit public speaking time at Glendale City Council meetings from five minutes down to three minutes. (Steve Greenberg / Glendale News Press / March 19, 2014)

Mayor Dave Weaver’s proposal to limit public speaking times during City Council meetings failed Tuesday when none of the council members could come to an agreement on the matter.

Weaver said he suggested cutting the five minutes of oral communications down to three minutes because Glendale is the only city in California with a population of more than 100,000 people that meets weekly and gives speakers five minutes to express their thoughts on items not on the council agenda.

“I don’t know why we have to be the only city that’s different,” Weaver said.

But Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said that Glendale being unique among large California cities is not a bad thing.

“I think we should be proud of that and I think we should be the standard that everyone else aspires to,” Sinanyan said, adding that it’s inappropriate to limit the public’s time to express themselves, even if that time is used to lambaste council members.

“God knows I’ve been on the receiving end of that criticism,” Sinanyan added.

Of 28 California cities with a population of more than 100,000 people that were analyzed by the Glendale City Clerk’s office, five cap oral communications by speakers to five minutes, but none of them meet weekly.

The remainder limit the time period to two to three minutes, including Irvine, Anaheim and Sacramento.

Resident Kenneth Landon said it would be inappropriate to limit the timing for oral communications, while resident Mike Mohill, who often criticizes the council during that public speaking period, compared the change to “tyranny.”

“You want to shorten the time before [people] can even get their words and their thoughts together,” Landon sad.

But Weaver countered that he didn’t think it’s inappropriate to limit a speaker’s time.

“I don’t think we’re being tyrannical to ask you to express yourself in a timely fashion,” he said.

Councilman Ara Najarian said that a public speaker should be able to express their feelings within three minutes.

“Realizing you have three minutes will give each and every speaker, will demand of them a little bit of focus, a little bit of thought,” Najarian said. “I would prefer three minutes of sharp criticism than five minutes of a wandering diatribe.”

Councilwoman Laura Friedman attempted to strike a compromise, suggesting that commenters should get five minutes, unless there may be 10 or more people who want to speak, which would then trigger a three-minute cap. But that suggestion failed to gain support from others on the dais.

“OK, I guess we won’t be accused of tyranny,” Weaver said.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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