“That’s a fair compromise,” said O’Connell. ”Let’s see if it’s abused or if it’s utilized properly.”
“That would be a good idea,” agreed Mota. “Let’s give it a try for six months.”
All three committee members supported the idea of having sign-in sheets for people who want to speak.
The council president said people who want to speak also could call or email the city clerk’s office to get on the list. “It would be first come, first served,” said Guridy.
He will want people to write down their addresses, phone numbers and the topic they want to talk about.
Resident Ken Heffentrager called “fantastic” O’Connell’s proposal to let people speak when ordinances are introduced. But regarding sign-in sheets, Heffentrager said: “No, absolutely not.”
He argued that some people already are reluctant to stand up in front of City Council. “They’re scared to death to walk up here,” he said.
“We never put anybody on the spot,” responded Guridy. “We encourage them to speak. That’s never been an issue in the 13 years I’ve been on council.”
Resident Julian Kern called sign-in sheets pointless. “It’s going to discourage people from coming up here.”
And resident Glenn Hunsicker said sign-in sheets will “impede the process. You’re changing things that don’t have to be changed.”
Guridy and O’Connell disagreed. They said even after a meeting is underway, people could sign in to speak if they decide they want to do so.
The logistics of that would have to be worked out, since the committee members also said the sign-in sheets would be given to the council president when the meetings begin, so he can call on people.
Guridy said sign-in sheets are used by the Allentown School Board “and it works. It keeps the meeting orderly.”
“Let’s give it a try,” said Guridy. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll discontinue it.”
The committee agreed that members of the public be allowed to make Power Point presentations to City Council.
But they suggested those presentations be limited to three minutes, unless the council president agrees in advance to allow them to be longer.
They also want all presentations reviewed by the city clerk before shown at a public council meeting. “We should see it so people don’t bring a presentation at the last minute and we don’t know what we’re looking at,” said Guridy.
Some people at the meeting said three minutes is not enough time for Power Point presentations. Council members suggested those presentations could be backed up with more detailed written materials.
Enforcing time limits
Allentown’s City Council allows far more opportunities for the public to speak during its meetings than the governing boards of some other municipalities. Many others give the public only one or two opportunities to stand up and express opinions during public meetings.
City Council allows people three minutes to speak. If they represent an organization, they are given five minutes. Council uses a time clock, but those limits are not routinely enforced. Some residents ask questions or engage in debates with city officials – conversations that sometimes go on for 10 minutes or more.
Heffentrager suggested council should do more to enforce its time limits.
Guridy said he has no problem enforcing time limits, but people get upset and even belligerent when he tells them their time is up.