At the Birmingham City Commission meeting on Monday, December 9, commissioners directed staff to look at how other communities treat the public comment portion of municipal meetings and report back at a future meeting.
Commissioner Brad Host brought the matter up during commissioner comments, noting “it's something that commissioner Clinton Baller helped me with. We said there are priorities that are not conditioned for long-range planning. These are entities where the public can speak at the beginning of the meeting.”
Host noted several other communities which do have time for the public to comment at the beginning of their agenda; Birmingham has it at the end of the agenda. Host noted that “we want to encourage high school civics students, old people, who can't wait to the end of our meetings because they go on so long, if they have someplace else to be.”
“This is worth looking into,” mayor pro tem Therese Longe said. “Is this something staff can look into to see how we could implement this, factual and not theoretical?”
Baller said he thought it was a good idea if it “is limited, on a trial basis. I think we should look into it.”
Commissioner Rackeline Hoff did not share their point of view. “I think we need more information. It cannot be one commissioner having an idea. We have to look at all the angles. It requires more thoughts, procedures. I'm concerned the public would be frustrated because they would expect us to respond and we would not be able to.”
“We have to remember that this is a public meeting, not a meeting of the public,” commissioner Stuart Sherman said.
“I think that this is why the city manager should bring all the caveats before so we can have a robust discussion,” Longe countered.
“I don't think I can count on one hand the people who have felt this is a concern in the over two decades I've been involved,” said commissioner Mark Nickita. “I think it's a low priority, so I think we proceed very carefully.”
City manager Joe Valentine said, “I think I'm hearing we should do research and bring it back for a discussion.”