Lawrence City Commission to consider new decorum rules for public meetings, changes to handling of consent agenda

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., Thursday, July 7, 2016

City leaders will soon continue their discussion about potential limits on public comment and other changes intended to better manage meetings of the governing body.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting a resolution amending rules and procedures governing commission meetings. The resolution includes a 30-minute cap on general public comment, an updated statement on decorum and changes to how the commission handles its consent agenda.

The commission began discussing potential changes last week. The commission’s meetings have regularly been going to about 11 p.m., and sometimes later, and the commission agreed that limiting general public comment — as opposed to the comment period for specific agenda items — could allow the commission to get to its regular agenda sooner and provide more predictability to the public, as the Journal-World reported. A desire to update the rules on decorum was also discussed, as were potential changes to how the consent agenda is handled, though no consensus was reached on the latter point and commissioners requested a recommendation from staff.

The decorum language continues to state that members of the public are encouraged to act with decorum and to address the governing body and one another with respect. The updated language proposed by city staff specifies: “The following will not be tolerated: uttering fighting words, slander, speeches invasive of the privacy of individuals, unreasonably loud or repetitious speech, and speeches so disruptive of the proceedings that the business of the City is substantially interrupted.”

Like other local governing bodies, the Lawrence City Commission has seen an increase in public commenters over the past couple of years who speak about issues not clearly related to the business of the governing body, promote political campaigns, share misinformation on other topics, and at times become hostile with commissioners or members of the public.

As before, the decorum language states that it is the duty of the presiding officer — the mayor unless the mayor is absent — to preserve order and decorum, and any member of the public engaging in disruptive behavior who interferes with the governing body’s ability to conduct the business of the city may, after a warning, be subject to removal from the meeting.

The city currently allows the public to comment throughout the meeting, by pulling items from the consent agenda, during general public comment for issues not on the agenda, and on each regular agenda item. City staff last week presented a table outlining how six other governments in other nearby communities handle public comment: Topeka, Lenexa, Overland Park, Olathe, Wichita and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Of the six reviewed, only Topeka does not cap the total amount of time allowed for public comment, and only Lenexa allows the public to comment on items on the consent agenda. Locally, the Lawrence school district does not allow public comment on the consent agenda while the Douglas County Commission does. Neither the school district nor the county caps public comments, but both bodies, like the City Commission, use a three-minute limit per commenter. The school district requires public commenters to sign up ahead of time while the county does not.

Currently, both city commissioners and members of the public can pull any item off the consent agenda for public comment and a separate vote from the commission. Under the changes recommended by city staff, there could be two separate consent agendas, one for general consent items and a separate section for any consent agenda items that require a public hearing by law, such as rezoning requests. Under the proposal, commissioners could pull items from both consent agendas, but absent such action, the public can only make live public comment (in-person or via Zoom) on the public hearing consent agenda items. The commission would continue to accept written public comment on all consent items.

As previously discussed by the commission, the changes proposed to general public comment add a 30-minute overall time limit and an advanced sign-up requirement. The resolution also proposes moving the period for general comment to the beginning of the commission’s agenda.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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