Legislation that Bexley City Council is considering would affect interaction between council members and the public during council meetings.
If approved by council, Ordinance 17-19 would implement a new rule allowing the public to comment on any item on council's agenda and on items not on the agenda at designated times. The legislation would give the council president discretion to allow council members to ask clarifying questions of residents who speak on an issue. The legislation would allow the president to "reasonably limit the length of discussion between the public and council members" but wouldn't specify a time limit.
The legislation states the policy allowing the public to comment on any item would not apply to executive sessions or hearings in which council acts in a quasi-judicial capacity.
Ordinance 17-19 is the latest undertaking that addresses how council interacts with members of the public.
In a 6-1 vote March 12, council upheld a rule implemented by council President Lori Ann Feibel last fall that set a 3-minute time limit when members of the public address council. Feibel and council members Mary Gottesman, Steve Keyes, Monique Lampke, Troy Markham and Richard Sharp voted to uphold the rule. Tim Madison, who cast the sole dissenting vote, introduced Ordinance 17-19 at council's May 14 meeting.
Madison said the legislation is intended to provide as many opportunities as possible for residents to give feedback.
"Any time a resident wants to come to council and discuss issues with council, they should have a right to do so, and council should have the right to respond and have the right to have a dialogue with anyone that's here with us," Madison said.
Feibel said she makes an effort to be flexible and allow as much input from residents as possible while also keeping council meetings running efficiently.
"I work hard to ensure citizens know that I appreciate their thoughts," she said. "Bexley proves in every meeting that we value resident input. Indeed, we have one of the most liberal audience participation policies in central Ohio. Not only have I done extensive research on this fact and shared it with council, I have visited the council meetings of other municipalities."
The other four council members who were present at the May 14 meeting, with Steve Keyes absent, said they were not sure council should adopt another rule regarding public comment.
"I think residents do have plenty of input," Gottesman said. "The part I miss is the ability of council members to engage with those speakers if we would like clarification or if the resident poses a question so that we could answer it."
"I've been coming here for 3 1/2 years, and I feel this is one of the most open, communicative forums that we have," Markham said. "I'm open to discussing changes. I feel like we should do it in a cooperative manner."
"I personally see our City Council meetings as opportunities to conduct the city's business, and I think that we have to balance with making sure we are getting that city business done while also receiving the public's comments," Lampke said. "I do not see public comment as a time to debate the public, to go back and forth. But it is important to me to hear from the public."
"I think we've seen ... that our council president has been flexible where needed. I don't think another rule added to our council rules is appropriate in this manner," Sharp said. "I think each individual president should have the opportunity to lead in the way that they see best fit."
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler noted that council discussed parliamentary proceedings and Roberts Rules of Order with Capital University professor Stephen Koch at council's retreat at Jeffrey Mansion in February.
"President Feibel, in an effort to keep meetings streamlined and on track, went back to Roberts Rules of Order and brought us back to our roots because they are in our council rules and have been for many years," Kessler said. "It's been a learning process for sure, but in doing so, we allow a lot of residents who couldn't otherwise comment (to) comment. We allow residents who would find our meetings that were running four and five hours long inaccessible to become accessible to them."
Bexley City Attorney Marc Fishel said he has represented various Ohio municipalities for 30 years and Bexley has one of the most flexible public comment policies.
"I would defy anybody to point to another city in the state of Ohio that is open in the comments and interaction that occur between council members and members of the public," he said.
Ordinance 17-19 was scheduled for a second reading on May 28, with a third and final reading tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. June 11 at Bexley City Hall, 2242 E. Main St.