New city commissioners or trustees always are eager to shake things up when they first get into office and immediately implement ideas that have been percolating during their campaigns. It's a natural desire, and we often caution an urge for propulsion with a stop on the brakes (or to at least go through the appropriate channels of putting things on the agenda). But one initiative recently introduced by new Birmingham City Commissioner Brad Host, with assistance from commissioner Clinton Baller, also recently elected to the commission, not only sounds reasonable to us – as long time observers of the commission meetings, we think it should be immediately implemented.
The idea is to place comments from the public – called “Open to the Public for Matters Not on the Agenda” – towards the beginning of city commission meetings, rather than at the end, where they have languished for as long as we can recall. One, Birmingham City Commission meetings are not brief outings – they often conduct important business until 10 p.m., 11 p.m., or even later, forcing residents or others who want to speak to commissioners or put something on the record to stay and outlast every other item on the agenda. Some are senior citizens; some are youth. Others are members of the business community or neighborhoods who are forced to perform endurance tests, or else give up and not voice their thoughts or opinions, whether they be important or trivial.
Several other local municipalities have moved their public comments for items not on the agenda to the beginning of meetings, whether in Bloomfield Township, which permits the public to speak for a maximum of three minutes only at the beginning of meetings, other than for public hearings; in Bloomfield Hills, where citizens are limited to three minutes; West Bloomfield, also at the beginning, for three minutes; Beverly Hills, at the beginning of the meeting; in Rochester Hills, where it is near the beginning of the agenda; and in Rochester, where they open to the public at both the beginning and the end of the meeting.
Birmingham commissioners directed city manager Joe Valentine to have staff do research and bring it back for a discussion sometime in the new year – with the long-term commissioners – Rackeline Hoff, Mark Nickita and Stuart Sherman – not feeling the issue is a priority. But for a commission that has been tarred and feathered as not transparent and needing better communication with residents, this is an important first step.
Move items not on the agenda, only, to the front of agenda, let people talk and vent, with a time limit. Then do the business of the city as elected, with members of the public commenting on new items as they come up, as practiced. Communications can go a long way for everyone.