Fayetteville sets new 3-minute time limit for public comment at council meetings

A line of residents waiting to speak stretched outside the City Council chambers and onto the sidewalk outside City Hall during the civil rights ordinance discussion on Aug. 19, 2014 when there was no time limit on public speaking. That meeting lasted until 3:45 a.m. the following day. (Flyer file photo/Todd Gill)

FAYETTEVILLE — Residents speaking during City Council meetings now have three minutes to get their point across.

The council on Tuesday voted 6-2 to shorten the public comment period from five minutes to three minutes. Council members Scott Berna, Sarah Bunch, Holly Hertzberg, Bob Stafford, Teresa Turk and Mike Wiederkehr voted in favor of the change. D’Andre Jones and Sarah Moore voted against.

The previous five-minute limit was set in 2017 after several years of meetings that stretched late into the night when some residents spoke up to 40 minutes each with no time limit at all.

Tuesday’s change was proposed by Berna, who said he first got the idea after the council in May voted to temporarily reduce public comment to three minutes during a discussion about adding new school resource officers to the Police Department’s roster. Even with the shortened time limit, that meeting wasn’t adjourned until after midnight, but it was the third meeting to last over six hours in a three-month period.

Berna said after the May meeting he’d support a permanent change, but several council members suggested waiting until January for the council’s annual approval of its rules of order and procedure.

Berna said the goal wasn’t to have a negative effect on public comment, but rather to try and solve the challenge of keeping the meetings from stretching late into the night.

“I think anybody can say what needs to be said in three minutes,” Berna said. “I think it would really help keep people moving along.”

Bob Stafford agreed and said people should be able to make a point in three minutes. He said there are additional avenues for further comments that people could use – such as emails or phone calls to their representatives – if they need to get more in-depth with their opinions.

Councilmember Sarah Moore said one thing that makes Fayetteville unique is that the city allows more time for public comment than other municipalities, so she wouldn’t support the proposal. D’Andre Jones said he understood Berna’s concerns, but said he didn’t want to run the risk of the public thinking the council was limiting comment so he’d vote against the change.

Sarah Bunch said the council always has the option to shorten or extend public comment as needed, so she isn’t heavily invested in whether the set time limit is three or five minutes.

Councilmember Holly Hertzberg said she’d support the change because it could lead to more people being able to speak if the meetings don’t drag on. Bunch agreed, and said before she was a council member – and before there was a time limit at all – she once came to speak and eventually gave up and went home after some people spoke for up to 40 minutes each.

Mike Wiederkehr said if residents were more focused when speaking, the meetings could be more efficient, but admitted that sometimes it’s the council members who are long-winded speakers.

Teresa Turk suggested trying the 3-minute limit for 2024 and revisiting the idea next year if it doesn’t work well.

While the vote to amend the rules of order was 6-2 with Jones and Moore voting against, the group voted unanimously to approve the procedural resolution, which went into effect immediately.

» See the full City Council recap post here