After a three-month trial earlier this year, Birmingham City Commissioners on Monday, July 13, unanimously approved moving its public comment portion of the meeting to earlier in the meeting, from the end of the its meeting.
City manager Joe Valentine explained the item was before the city commission in January of this year, and that staff had prepared a memo at the time explaining different placements of public comment by different communities in Oakland County.
“A three-month trial took place (placing public comment at the beginning of the meeting), and it expired at the same time as Covid began,” he said.
Staff member Melissa Fairbaim said, “In January's memo, city staff looked at 31 cities in Oakland County and 16 other communities, and it's fairly evenly split between the beginning, middle and end of meetings, so it's up to the commission. People said they didn't want to split public comment. You can look at timing of public comment, you can add guidelines, public participation cards – those are a good way to facilitate communication. In your packet tonight, you have several options, 10 to be exact.”
Commissioner Clinton Baller said the option which most accurately captures his point of view was item number four in the packet, which was to move public comment prior to the consent agenda in the commission agenda.
“I don't have a problem moving it in terms of the placement of the comment. We should add rules and procedures. I think the instructions we gave before were very helpful to people who never have come to a city commission meeting before,” said commissioner Stuart Sherman.
Mayor Pierre Boutros disagreed with Sherman. “I've never seen a problem with our public comments. I don't believe in timing people. I refuse to time people. I want to respect people. We don't need to complicate things,” he said. “It will not hurt, it will only help, to move it to the beginning of the meeting.”
“These are business meetings of the city. We have to make sure they get done in a timely manner,” commissioner Mark Nickita said. “In the 20 years I've been involved, there've never been a lot of public comment, mostly because people can get in touch with us. This was supposed to be a review of our trial.”
He noted in the three months of the trial, there were six commission meetings. At the first, there was a group seeking to speak about 5G. At the next two meetings, one person each spoke at public comment; at the next two, no one spoke; at the last meeting, which was held by Zoom, one person spoke.
“I've had no calls, nobody meeting me, talking to me on the street, and I'm out and about a lot, about moving this,” Nickita said. “I'm okay with this as long it doesn't interfere with the business of the city.”