Bexley City Council voted 5-2 on Sept. 24 against revisiting Ordinance 17-19, tabled legislation that would implement a new council rule allowing the public to comment on any item on council's agenda and on items not on the agenda at designated times.
Council President Lori Ann Feibel and members Steve Keyes, Monique Lampke, Troy Markham and Richard Sharp voted against removing the ordinance from the table. Voting in favor of removing the legislation from the table were council members Mary Gottesman and Tim Madison, who introduced it May 14. The ordinance was tabled this summer before a final vote.
Madison said he moved to remove the legislation from the table to give residents more time to address council members beyond the three-minute limit that Feibel enacted last fall.
The legislation proposed allowing council members and members of the public to ask questions and debate issues, changing the current policy of council members listening with no back-and-forth discussion when residents speak. The legislation suggested the council president "reasonably limit the length of discussion between the public and council members" but did not specify a time limit.
Before the three-minute rule was adopted, "there was never an issue with people coming to the podium and talking and having an open dialogue between council and residents," Madison said. "It just never was an issue. Personally, it's one of the things that I enjoy the most. We no longer have (standalone) committee meetings, so the only time for residents to come and speak to City Council is at a City Council meeting."
Gottesman said although she has no problem with council's current "committee of the whole" structure, rather than individual committee meetings, she would like for there to be more flexibility for residents and council members to engage in dialogue at meetings.
"When a resident cares enough about an issue to come here and address council, then I think we should be able to have a reasonable public discussion of it," Gottesman said.
Feibel said she believes the three-minute rule on the public addressing council allows more people to speak because meetings are more efficient. She said she has tried to be flexible when an issue requires more time for public comment.
The issue of public comment at council meetings could be addressed by the Charter Review Commission, which is scheduled to convene this fall, Feibel said.
"There are 15 people ready and willing to discuss the topics that most concern Bexley citizens," she said.
Lampke said she believes public comment is a time for council to receive input from the public, rather than engage in lengthy discussions.
"It is not time for council to debate or cross-examine the public," she said. "It is our time to listen and to listen intently."