BRAZORIA — New rules governing visitor comments at City Council meetings was a hot topic for residents of Brazoria before council struck a compromise regarding formality.
City Attorney Charlie Stevenson introduced a set of rules for council to approve at its meeting Tuesday. The law requires visitors to have a chance to speak about an agenda item before or during its discussion at a meeting, he said, adding the council can establish reasonable rules to govern the process.
The rules included that guests refrain from individual conversation, silence electronics and be professional and businesslike. Guests would be required to sign up before a meeting to address the council about their desired agenda item and limited to five minutes per person per agenda item.
The city had a disorganized process in the past, Councilman Marcus Rabren said. Residents would line up, continue speaking and delay city business.
The comment period often went on for half an hour before the agenda began, Councilman Gary Kersh said.
House Bill 2840, which governs the process, is effective Sept. 1. A governmental body cannot prohibit public criticism of the governmental body, including criticism of any act, policy, program or service, unless otherwise prohibited by law, according to the bill.
Residents in council chambers Tuesday felt that the rules were too formal for a “small town” like Brazoria, they said while speaking from their seats, and argued it would limit their input in council decisions.
The council meetings are always open and the public has a right to listen to what they say and watch what they do, Stevenson said. Visitors can express their opinions, but the council does not have to respond, he said.
Councilwoman Susan Parker said there are ways to be organized without being too formal.
“We want more participation, but if we’re in a hurry to get it done … I’m not against organization but against the limitations,” Parker said.
Council agreed if visitors raise their hands, stand up and give their names, they can offer comments during the general dialogue. Violators will be given three warnings before being removed from the meeting, depending on the severity of the disruption.
Councilwoman Gail Logsdon made a motion to try the rules for three months, which passed unanimously.
Mayor Roger Shugart said he hopes meetings will remain calm and city leaders never have to remove someone from a council meeting.
“What we’ve just seen tonight shows it wasn’t orderly at all,” he said.