Lawrence City Commission to consider new meeting procedure policy, including potential public comment changes

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

Updated at 5 p.m. Monday, May 6

On Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider adopting more than a dozen resolutions and ordinances establishing new advisory board, ethics and meeting procedure policies, with some proposed changes related to when and how general public comment might be received.

The many ordinances and resolutions are grouped together as a single agenda item for this week’s City Commission meeting. Lawrence Mayor Bart Littlejohn last month expressed an interest in commissioners discussing their meeting procedures, and other changes are related to the ongoing process of consolidating the city’s volunteer boards and commissions.

Here’s a summary of the changes commissioners will be considering this week:

Proposed changes to meeting procedures

City commissioners are set to discuss some noteworthy changes to how they and advisory bodies run their meetings, mainly applying to how and when the City Commission receives public comments. The general public comment period is typically reserved for items that aren’t scheduled for discussion on the regular agenda but are germane to the city’s business.

City commissioners last considered changes to how they handle general public comments during their weekly meetings in August 2023, but they didn’t take any action after hearing pushback from members of the public. Along with a similar proposal to move the general public comment period to the end of the meeting, commissioners at the time were also discussing whether to limit the general public comments to only one meeting per month.

Some of the pushback last year was because the city’s safe-haven ordinance codifying protections against present and future anti-LGBTQ+ legislation originated from significant participation during recent general public comment opportunities. In June 2023, more than 70 commenters had urged city leaders to adopt an ordinance making Lawrence a sanctuary city for transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming residents.

Others at the time voiced concern that moving the public comment period to the end of the meeting agenda would disproportionally impact residents who rely on Lawrence’s bus system, as City Commission meetings routinely end at 10 p.m. or later, long after bus routes stop running for the evening. In the time since that meeting, Lawrence Transit has offered near 24/7 service via an Uber-like “Lawrence Transit on Demand” service, a free microtransit option available from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. overnight.

One proposed change up for consideration this week outlines an order of business for each meeting that moves the general public comment period to the end of the agenda, with the televised portion of each meeting stopping before the period begins. Currently, general public comment takes place early in the meeting, specifically as the third or fourth item following any executive sessions, the approval of the agenda, and the reading of any recognitions, proclamations or presentations.

The proposed changes would also require commenters to sign up in advance of each meeting with their name and address.

The resolution also outlines that the city “may” provide virtual options for providing live public comment — community members can currently participate via Zoom — but the “primary format for providing live public comment is in person” and the city “does not guarantee virtual access to meetings.” That doesn’t represent a significant change, though, since the city’s existing resolution outlining meeting procedures includes similar language. Both the existing resolution and the new one call for meetings to adjourn no later than 11 p.m., unless the City Commission is completing any business commenced prior to that time.

Otherwise, the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting notes that the City Commission is aiming to model the Code of Procedures for Kansas Cities prepared by the League of Kansas Municipalities. The rewritten policies align with that document, which doesn’t include the specific public comment policy changes.

The resolution, if adopted, would immediately apply to the City Commission and would be effective for advisory boards and commissions starting Sept. 1.

Policies for advisory boards

One of a few overarching resolutions proposed this week would establish standard policies and procedures for advisory boards, commissions and task forces.

Some ordinances up for consideration, meanwhile, would dissolve various volunteer boards. As the Journal-World reported, a Board and Commissions Structure Committee worked for about a year to decide how to consolidate the city’s 45 existing boards, commissions, steering committees and governing boards so they’d align more closely with the goals of the city’s strategic plan.

The proposed changes don’t actually result in much consolidation, though. The meeting agenda for Tuesday specifies that city staff is recommending that some boards not be consolidated but instead “aligned” to various areas of the city’s strategic plan.

The Community Police Review Board and Human Relations Commission, for example, appear to be recommended as separate bodies aligned under “Safe and Secure Board/Commissions.” The only two boards that appear to be combined under the proposed changes are the Multi-modal Transportation Commission and Public Transit Advisory Committee, which would be combined to form the “Connected City Advisory Board.”

A group of six volunteer boards are being recommended to “sunset,” including the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board. However, when city commissioners accepted the committee’s recommendations in November 2023, they did so with the exception of its suggestion to dissolve the Sustainability Advisory Board.

Ethics and professional conduct policy

Another resolution would establish further ethical and professional conduct on the part of elected officials, appointees, volunteers and city employees.

The resolution lays out conduct that won’t be allowed and the investigation procedures for complaints alleging a violation of the policy by members of the City Commission, appointed officials, the city manager or city employees.

In other business, commissioners will:

• Hold a public hearing on the 2024 Annual Action Plan regarding the city’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and open a 30-day public comment period for the plan.

Earlier this year, the city put out a call for applications for both grant programs — which are facilitated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — as part of the Annual Action Plan, a summary of the projects planned for the next CDBG and HOME grant program year running from Aug. 1, 2024, to July 31, 2025.

• Receive an update on the implementation of recommendations from the city’s Community Police Oversight Work Group and consider adopting Ordinance No. 10046, which would reflect those recommendations in the city’s code.

In February, the City Commission heard a presentation from the work group introducing 18 consensus recommendations for the scope of work of the Community Police Review Board, the group responsible for reviewing complaints against police. If the ordinance is approved, its effective date would be Sept. 1, aligning with the start date for the city’s restructured advisory boards.

• As part of a work session, receive an update on strategic actions related to the prosperity and economic security outcome area of the city’s strategic plan.

The City Commission will convene at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., and immediately enter a 30-minute executive session to discuss the possibility of acquiring real property in the city. A live stream of the meeting can be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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