Fayetteville approves five-minute time limit for public comment at council meetings

The City Council chambers were packed tight during the final reading of a contentious civil rights ordinance on Aug. 19, 2014.

File photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

Residents who tend to get long-winded at City Council meetings will need to re-think their approach when addressing the council from now on.

The council on Tuesday voted 7-0 to enact a five-minute time limit for residents to speak during the public comment portion of individual agenda items.

The new rule, which will take effect at the next City Council meeting on June 20, was sponsored by Councilmember Adella Gray.

Gray said the idea has been discussed several times in the past, but has never been formally brought up for consideration.

The council sometimes sets special rules at meetings that are expected to draw a large turnout. For example, one of six temporary rules enacted during the discussion of the city’s civil rights ordinance included a three-minute time limit on public comment.

Gray said it’s time to make a permanent change.

She said complaints are rising from residents who say they’ve had to leave meetings before getting a chance to voice their opinion due to the long-windedness of some speakers. Gray said she believes the change will lead to more overall public comment in the future.

Council members Matthew Petty, Sarah Marsh and Mark Kinion agreed, and said they hope residents understand that the intent is not to limit public discussion, but rather to ensure that every interested citizen has time to speak.

The new rule states:

Speakers shall be limited to a maximum of (5) five minutes so that all other citizens desiring to speak on that agenda item or a later item will not be unnecessarily inconvenienced. By a majority vote of the City Council Members present and voting, this time limitation may be altered for a specific agenda item.

In other words, a council member can make a motion to allow a resident to speak for longer than five minutes if a simple majority of the council agrees.

“We’re only asking that citizen input be better organized and more brief,” said Gray, adding that she hopes neighbors will come together and appoint representatives to speak on their behalf so that people don’t make the same points over and over again.

Councilmember John La Tour said that most people should be able to convey an opinion in under five minutes.

Chief of Staff Don Marr said there is a timer built into the current City Council chamber technology system that can be used to communicate remaining time to the speakers through all of the video monitors in the room.

The new rule only applies to the regular City Council meetings held twice each month inside room 219 of City Hall.