Canal Winchester City Council soon may give residents more opportunities to come before members and provide input and ask questions.

Although council already provides a public-comment period at the beginning of its regular meetings, which are the first and third Mondays of the month, members recently discussed holding quarterly meetings away from council chambers to gather feedback and comments from residents.

"I think it would be very helpful to have us all hearing the same message in the same way, then hearing bits and pieces from along the way," council member Bob Clark said during council's July 29 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

The discussion follows two council members' decision to hold informal coffees and conversations with residents at locations in the community.

Council members Jill Amos and Will Bennett started "Community Coffee" at businesses and other free locations throughout the community in January.

No more than three council members may be present or the session would be considered a public meeting under the terms of Ohio's public-records and open-meetings laws.

Amos said other council members have been invited to participate and added she would like a rotation of council members for those sessions.

However, some council members worry about residents mistakenly interpreting ideas discussed during the coffees as views of the entire council. Others feared they would turn into campaign events.

"Any one of us can take on our own initiative, as Jill and Will did, but if we had quarterly group town hall meetings, maybe at the Interurban (Station), where we can all sit around the table, I would love to see that," said council President Bruce Jarvis, who presides over council's regular meetings at Town Hall, 10 N. High St.

Gene Hollins, the city's law director, noted any gathering of more than three council members must be treated as a "public meeting" and publicized according to law.

Any changes would need to be reviewed by council's rules committee.

"I think this would handle some of the disgruntlement from some who worried that only a few of us were able to attend and worried about what type of message was being delivered," council member Mike Walker said. "I think that takes care of all that."

In a December email to fellow council members, Mike Coolman voiced a list of concerns, including established protocol for the meetings and a review by council's rules committee, among others.

Community Coffee generated debate last month after Amos requested using the city's Interurban Station, 16 S. High St. for future events.

Mayor Mike Ebert said a city ordinance requires a fee, based on group classifications, to hold a public event not sponsored by the city on city-owned property.

Community Coffee falls under Class II rentals for city residents and noncommunity-based nonprofit corporations that are charged $40 an hour for use of the Interurban. Additionally, the ordinance states that free rentals are not permitted on weekends. Amos said she paid $80 to rent the facility for two hours in June but also asked the mayor in an email to waive future fees for council members.

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