Citizens who want to speak out at city council will have to be quick about it.
Starting this month, people will have three minutes to make their point, down from five minutes. Groups get six minutes, down from 10. However, the meeting chair is allowed to reduce speaking time to two minutes at his or her own discretion. This means the council chair reserves the right to limit citizen input if the chair feels it could alter the meeting schedule.
These changes were not popular with some however.
“I think the council’s main goal in doing that was to reduce the time of city hall meetings,” Anthony Deininger, a TCU third-year Political Science major, said. “The correct solution is to lengthen the time you listen. Whether that involves adding council members to split districts further, or if it’s having longer meetings, whatever the case, I️ don’t think I️t is necessarily the best option to lower speaking limits.”
Another change requires citizens to sign up online, in person or in the City Secretary’s office by 5 p.m. the day of the city council meeting to speak.
The city also changed the way speakers make their presentations. The new rules call for speakers to begin their presentation by stating their name and their city of residence.
Group presentations are still allowed, but only if at least 10 of those represented are in attendance. Groups must provide the names of the people they represent upon registration. The new rule states that representees will be asked to stand when their name is called. If there aren’t at least six of the 10 people represented present in the city council chambers by the time the speaker begins, the time is limited to only three minutes.
This could limit citizen engagement if representees are unable to attend.
District eight representative Kelly Allen Gray said the new rules would not limit citizen coalition building because the rules “were like that before.” Gray also said she believes part of the reason for the new rules are due to “angst that people have come and said things, but people say things.”
The rules of conduct have also been changed. To prevent meeting order disturbance, the new rules do not tolerate, “behavior that fails to yield the floor when the speaker’s time is concluded,” meaning speakers will no longer be able to continue talking after the time limit expires. If the three minutes are up in the middle of a speech, that’s too bad.
Also, residents cannot bring up topics irrelevant to the meeting agenda or the planned city business when they are presenting. This means if someone has an issue he or she must make sure it’s on the agenda or it cannot be presented.
Residents also will no longer be able to interrupt a council member or use what the city of Fort Worth calls “loud, threatening, hostile, abusive, vulgar or obscene language.”
“We have had people who have come to us who were not happy with us and said things to us,” Rep. Allen Gray said. “All we could do is sit there and count to ten. But, never have we experienced that to the point that we’ve said we don’t want you to come and talk to me anymore.”
The new procedures also state the residents can no longer engage in prolonged clapping or yelling intended “to break up the council meeting.” If someone presents a well-versed argument, people who agree have to make sure not to make any vocal or audible sounds of celebration — no matter how impassioned they are.
This comes after several meetings’ going off track when residents address the council with comments and concerns about race relations or incidents with police brutality.
To address these specific issues the city of Fort Worth created a task force. During the next city council meeting, Tuesday, Dec. 4, the new rules and regulations will be in full effect.