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Amended Agenda to Allow for Additional Public Comment

During last week's Lawrence Township Council meeting, an ordinance that would change the agenda for future meetings was introduced. Council will decide on Jan. 22 whether or not to approve the changes.

In response to repeated requests from several residents, Lawrence Township Council last week introduced an ordinance that would amend the agenda for future council meetings by adding a second opportunity for public comment.

If council members approve the ordinance at their next meeting on Jan. 22, the change will take effect 20 days later, in time for the meeting scheduled for Feb. 19.

Traditionally, public participation has been held at the start of council meetings, with the only other opportunity for public comment coming just prior to council voting whether or not to award a bid or approve an ordinance slated for adoption.

Led by Amy Davis – a vocal critic of how the township’s prolonged budget crisis has been handled – a group of residents had, since last July, been urging council to either add a second opportunity for public comment toward the end of meetings or move the existing public participation period from the start of meetings to a later position in the agenda.

The issue, Davis and the others argued, is that limiting public comment to the beginning of meetings does not allow residents to offer timely feedback or commentary, ask questions, and seek clarification of uncertainties they may have regarding new information presented by Township Manager Richard Krawczun during his “manager’s report” segment, which is among the last items on the agenda.

After a number of passionate debates took place between the residents and council at successive meetings – including some heated exchanges between Davis and Councilman Greg Puliti – council members at their meeting on Dec. 18 agreed that the agenda for future meetings should be changed to allow a second opportunity for public comment.

Council, following advice previously given by Township Attorney David Roskos, decided that while there would be no time limit imposed on speakers during the first public participation period, speakers during the second round of public comment would be limited to three minutes each.

In addition to adding the requested second opportunity for public participation, the changed agenda that was first unveiled at the Jan. 8 meeting included another major change – the movement of executive session from just prior to adjournment to a position directly following the first public comment period near the beginning of the meeting.

Davis and others promptly objected, arguing that not only would it be disruptive to the flow of business at the meetings but it would be unfair to make members of the public wait in the hallway, possibly for lengthy periods of time, while council held closed-door sessions with the township manager and attorney to discuss personnel and legal matters.

“I’m pleased council is introducing an ordinance tonight to allow for a second public session after the manager’s report but I’m completely baffled as to why council is also proposing to move executive session to the middle of the meeting,” Davis said (beginning at the 00:18 mark of Audio Part 2, available in the media box above).

“We never requested executive session be moved,” she said. “There was nothing wrong with having executive session at the end. In fact, it’s the most logical and practical place to have executive session because it allows the public to attend the entire public session and then leave while you conduct executive session behind closed doors. It doesn’t make any sense to force residents to waste their time waiting around while you conduct executive session.”

Later during the meeting (04:25 mark of Audio Part 3), council members reconsidered and decided to amend the ordinance, prior to approving its introduction, by moving executive session back to the end of the agenda, just before adjournment.

As can be seen in the chart below, the new agenda introduced on Jan. 8 does shuffle some other elements in comparison to the agendas of meetings from the past few years.

 

New Agenda

Old Agenda

Mayor's Welcome and Statement of Proper Notice

Mayor’s Welcome, Statement of Proper Notice and Roll Call

Pledge of Allegiance

Pledge of Allegiance

Roll Call

Review and Revision of Agenda

Special Proclamations, Recognitions and Presentations

Special Proclamations, Recognitions and Presentations

Public Participation

Public Participation

Review and Revision of Agenda

Adoption of Minutes of Previous Meetings

Adoption of Minutes of Previous Meetings

Introduction of Ordinances

Awarding and/or Rejecting of Bids (* with public participation)

Resolutions

Introduction of Ordinances

Awarding and/or Rejecting of Bids (* with public participation)

Adoption of Ordinances (* with public participation)

Adoption of Ordinances (* with public participation)

Manager's Report

Manager's Report

Attorney's Report

Attorney's Report

Clerk's Report

Clerk's Report

Old Business

Written Communications

New Business

Old Business

Public Participation - 3 minute limitation per speaker

New Business

Resolutions

Executive Session

Council Initiatives & Liaison Reports

Adjournment

Written Communications

 

Executive Session

 

Adjournment

 

 

See Also:

  • Dec. 27: “Lawrence Twp. Council Meeting: Audio From Dec. 18”
  • Dec. 14: “Resident Challenges Council Over Public Participation: ‘Do the Right Thing’”
  • Oct. 26: “Concerns About Traffic Safety Aired Before Council”
  • Oct. 10: “Debate Resumes Over Public Comment at Twp. Council Meetings”
  • Sept. 11: “Compromise Being Eyed in Public Participation Debate”
  • Aug. 29: “Public Participation Hot Topic at Twp. Council Meetings”
  • Aug. 21: “2013 Municipal Budget Discussion Resumes Tonight”

 

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