There is some potential good news and some bad news for residents who attend Allentown City Council meetings.
The good news is council may change its policy to allow the public to speak on bills when they are introduced -- at least on a trial basis.
Currently, proposed legislation is introduced with no discussion by members of City Council and the public is not allowed to speak.
The bad news, at least to some residents, is council may require people who want to speak at meetings to sign in when they arrive -- and write down the subject they want to talk about.
Council also may allow members of the public to make Power Point presentations at its meetings, but they may get only three minutes to do so.
Those issues involving public involvement in council meetings were discussed Thursday night by its three-member Rules, Intergovernmental Relations and Strategy Committee.
Council president Julio Guridy, who chairs the committee, said its recommendations will be presented to the full council in early May.
Guridy said he wants meetings to be run “efficiently, effectively and in the shortest amount of time possible.”
The committee meeting was attended by only five residents, all regulars at City Council meetings.
Four of them voiced opposition to the idea of requiring sign-in sheets.
Council vice president Ray O’Connell, who serves on the rules committee, pushed hard for City Council to allow members of the public to speak when new ordinances are introduced.
Currently, brief summaries of those ordinances are read by the city clerk and then they immediately are assigned to committees by the council president, with no discussion by council members.
That also is one of the few times during a meeting when the public is not allowed to go to the podium to speak. That practice has spurred some strong objections from members of the public at previous council meetings, especially when controversial pieces of legislation are being introduced.
O’Connell wants that practice changed, so both council members and the public can speak on ordinances being introduced. “You’re giving the public a chance to ask a question about the bill.”
Guridy and Cynthia Mota, the third member of the committee, disagreed.
They argued that council members may not know enough about a piece of legislation being introduced to answer any questions about it.
“I don’t see any harm in it,” O’Connell said repeatedly. “I just don’t think we should shut out the public.”
“We’re not shutting them out,” countered Guridy. “It’s just not the appropriate time for them to talk about the bill because we don’t have all the information.”
Guridy said people can offer questions and comments on proposed legislation by attending the public meeting of whatever committee is assigned to review it.
“You get into the meat and potatoes when you have a committee meeting,” agreed O’Connell. “We can say ‘we don’t have enough information to answer that question, please come to the committee meeting and we’ll hash it out.’”
O’Connell doesn’t expect many people will come to the podium to address council when bills are introduced. “But it’s fair to give them a shot to come up and say ‘what is that bill about?’”
Guridy predicted the change advocated by O’Connell will just be a waste of time that makes meetings last longer.
“Every time an ordinance is introduced, people will come up and speak about it,” predicted Guridy. “Everyone will want to speak about it.”
“We already give the public a lot of leeway and dialogue,” said O’Connell. “I don’t see this extending our meetings much longer then they normally are.”
Saying O’Connell is “obviously very adamant about this,” Guridy said he would be willing to do it on a trial basis for six months “to see how it works.”