Macungie council says residents don't have to wait til end of meeeting to comment

Published: Oct 02 2012 08:19:42 AM EDT   Updated On: Oct 02 2012 11:34:55 AM EDT
Macungie Borough council
MACUNGIE, Pa. -

Monday’s meeting of the Macungie Borough Council began at 7:30 p.m. and ended sometime around midnight, despite a recent agenda modification designed to encourage efficiency.

This was largely due to a discussion of that agenda change, which Council President Jean Nagle and Council Vice President Chris Hutchison backed at council’s previous meeting.

To set a more positive tone for the usually negative meetings and to get through council’s business faster, Nagle had moved the public comment portion from the meeting’s beginning to its end. But last night, council voted 4-3 to restore the agenda to its original order.

Ignoring Nagle’s insistence on keeping the new format until January, council passed a resolution that prohibits the council president from displacing public comment—unless it is to accommodate a “confirmed appointment.” In other words, when fairness dictates it.

So if council presents a sports team with a proclamation, the team may receive it immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance, not after a lengthy public comment session.

Nagle based her decision to alter the agenda on a similar rule that was intended to periodically place special issues ahead of the public. Council member Debra Cope said that had she known Nagle would hear the entire agenda before the public, she never would have voted for it.

Council member David Boyko agreed with Cope. “I think you’re disenfranchising the people, Jean,” he said.

Nagle responded immediately, saying, “That is an absolute lie.” She defended her action by saying she didn’t take anything away from the agenda or the residents, and that she just wanted to improve the meetings. “I did not think it was going to cause such a brouhaha.”

But residents who spoke at the meeting had a different interpretation. “You are elected officials of the borough,” Dorothy Kociuba said. “And it is your responsibility to listen to the concerns of the borough.”

Both Kociuba and Macungie resident Tim Romig accused Nagle of trying to ignore their concerns. “You should call it what it really is. It’s your attempt to stifle dissent,” Romig said.

Though the resolution passed, some residents still took issue with the type of public comment allowed. Audience members can comment on agenda items only after they have been discussed, not during the initial comment portion. That means citizens might wait hours to speak.

But council member Joseph Sikorski, who voted for the resolution, explained that some organization is necessary.

And Nagle said that if a citizen can’t stay long enough to speak, he or she can get in touch with the borough. She referred to council meetings as “the last stop” for discussing an issue.