Archived Story

Forum revisions a good idea

Published 3:14pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Public outcry over the city’s support and partial financing of a community ice arena has left the city with a tainted image in the minds of many residents, even those who are in favor of building the facility.

So it’s refreshing to see the council is not planning to restrict its public forum policy, which could cause further disconnect between the city council and Fergus residents. The revised policy was agreed upon at Thursday morning’s finance, personnel and development committee meeting and was brought before the full council at its Sept. 7 meeting.

What the revision does is clarifies and allows the mayor to enforce the 3- to 5-minute time limit. That’s a good idea. People who wish to speak before the council should make brief, well-thought out presentations. No one really wants to hear every digression of speech which is common in casual conversation. And depending on the topic, the mayor should have the authority to increase the time, assuming the speaker is making new points.

I applaud JoEllen Thacker, along with the other council members on the committee — Fish and Shelstad (Chairman Synstelien doesn’t vote) who didn’t support limiting the number of topics residents could address. She called it micro-managing. I call it too limiting. Residents should be able to address as many topics as the council is discussing, if they wish. Hopefully, people won’t speak to every non-issue on a council agenda — there are always a few.

Many cities have such a policy for addressing issues at council meetings and with good reason — it is designed to allow residents to be heard and open discussion with others (at an appropriate time), while at the same time ensuring that council meetings don’t get bogged down with long-winded diatribes.

The personal attacks clause in the policy is a sticky wick: Some people against an issue can come on strong. And some council members may hear that as a personal attack when it may not be. It’s human nature, I think, to want everyone’s support on key ideas and issues, but council members should give residents the benefit of the doubt unless it’s a blatant attack against a person or business.

And people should be allowed to voice a grievance at a council meeting. Transparency of the good and the bad should be a fundamental element of good government. Though again, human nature shuns having negatives broadcast for all to see.

All in all, the slight changes to the policy should serve both residents and the council well.

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