The Guthrie City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday evening to amend the public comment portion for citizens speaking at a council meeting. The discussion comes after two citizens were denied at the Feb. 7 meeting.
Public comments have been allowed to the public for many years with certain guidelines that are displayed when citizens sign up to speak. Over the course of years and years, those guidelines have been overlooked until the Feb. 7 meeting when two citizens were denied to speak.
Mayor Steve Gentling, who was absent from the previous meeting, issued an apology before Tuesday night’s discussion.
“I would like to apologize to the citizens, the council. The apology is as the chair of this council, it is my responsibility to conduct the meeting in an orderly manner. I’ve been doing that for about eight years,” Gentling said.
“During that time, I have become a little relax on some things and one of those is public comments. I have allowed people to make comments that aren’t in alignment with our guidelines that we have under citizens recognition and announcements guidelines.”
Public comments are not required by the local charter or an ordinance but instead is a policy adopted by the council.
The current guidelines include public announcements about community events and/or recognitions of positive achievements, or to address an item on the current meeting agenda.
The guidelines, however, don’t allow citizens to express concerns without first being on the agenda. Councilman James Long and Gentling suggested that citizens should contact council members or the city manager to resolve an issue or have it placed on the agenda for discussion.
Adam Ropp, who is a candidate for Ward 1 councilman, signed up to speak on the matter.
“There are many in the community that have reached out to me and express they do feel this is a way to stifle their free speech. If we have a process where either the city manager or one of you (council members) put this on the agenda in order for them to talk I’ve had multiple people said they have reached out to certain individuals and not only was it a no but they didn’t get a return phone call,” Ropp said.
Ropp continued, “They see this as a loophole in a manner of a way for them to be shut down because somebody does not like what they are going to say.”
Which appears to be the scenario that unfolded Feb. 7.
Gentling responded to Ropp by saying, “I don’t see that we are a barrier to get information and opinions from the citizens, but it needs to be within some type of structure. And the structure is that it needs to be on the agenda. If a person has an issue, they can call us (council members) or the city manager. Then we can put it on the agenda. Yes, it would fall on us to say yeah this appropriate or not.”
Council member Brian Bothroyd, who was the only member to vote against the agenda item, said he believes citizens should be allowed to speak freely.
“I think they (citizens) ought to be able to talk about whatever they want to talk about. They got their five minutes. If it goes off topic, you (Mayor) shut them down. But to try and stifle people from talking is ridiculous.”
With the 5-1 approval, the guidelines will remain in place with the addition of citizens who do not live within city limits but own a business in Guthrie will be allowed to address the council.
The other addition is citizens will no longer have to identify their address from the podium to help with identity concerns.
Public Comment Policy
1) City of Guthrie residents and/or owners of a business within the Guthrie City limits may sign in on the “Public Comments and Public Announcements & Recognitions”
– Make general public announcements about community events and/or recognitions of positive achievements, or
– to address an item on the current meeting agenda.
– If your topic is on the agenda, you will be allowed up to five minutes to address the City Council during the GPWA/City Council Meeting.
2) Speakers will be heard only upon recognition by the Mayor or Chair, and will address the Council or Board from the podium.
3) Individuals will be required to provide their name and address on “Public Comments and Public Announcements & Recognitions” Form for the record, but their address will not be publicly stated, before beginning their remarks they will only be requested to confirm they are either City of Guthrie resident and/or owner of a business within the Guthrie City limits.
4) If you wish to speak on something not on the current meeting agenda and/or report a concern, you should contact either the City Manager’s Office or your Councilperson to request consideration to be placed on a future meeting agenda.