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Heber City

Heber City Council considers limiting public comment in meetings

Heber City Hall
Ben Lasseter
Heber City Hall is located at 75 North Main Street.

Tuesday’s Heber City Council meeting went late into the night with discussions about making future meetings more efficient. One proposal was to limit public comments.

In recent months, twice-monthly Heber City Council meetings have often run later than 11 o’clock at night. Partly because of this, Heber City Attorney Mark Smedley has proposed changes to some meetings rules. 

One of those would allow the public to speak only during public hearings or general public comment periods at the start of each meeting. Currently, people at City Hall or attending meetings online may speak anytime the mayor grants permission.

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, Mayor Heidi Franco opposed that idea.

“How many times have we changed decisions because the public gave us comments right in the moment?" she asked. "There’s none of that real-time interaction with this wording. You can’t say one word about what’s on the agenda when you come. That’s your language right now.”

Smedley said current council members requested he come up with changes. 

Councilor Ryan Stack said because limiting comments doesn’t eliminate all opportunity for the public to speak, it’s a viable compromise.

“This is a necessary step as the city continues to grow, as the amount of items on our agenda continues to expand, and so we are forced to weigh resource allocation, and we are forced to strike a balance between needing to hear from the public and also needing to conduct our business," Stack said. "I know the mayor doesn’t see this as a balance, and I appreciate your point of view; I respectfully disagree. This allows public comment.”

Councilor Mike Johnston also supported the change. He offered a presentation by the Heber Valley Pickleball Club as an example of an unnecessary, time-consuming discussion in a presentation that should have taken less time.

Heber City resident Tracy Taylor said the benefit of allowing public comment outweighs the impact of extending meeting times.

“I feel like the public’s getting pulled in on this tugging and pulling that’s going on with the council right now," Taylor said. "You don’t have a problem with people filling this room every Tuesday night and taking over your meetings, generally, on most agenda items. It’s only for a certain few items that people feel very strongly about, and they have every right to come to you and tell you how they feel about it.”

Councilor Yvonne Barney said allowing people to participate in real-time council conversations is an appropriate way to involve the public in decision-making.

“Heber City is growing," Barney said. "We have a lot of issues. It’s 10:30 at night, and I know that we want to be able to get home in a timely manner, but I also understand that at no time should we say to the public, ‘Listen, you’re just not important right now.’”

The council took no action on the rules of order Tuesday. Smedley said it’s on the agenda for the work meeting on Tuesday, April 5.

According to Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau, the change Heber City’s considering is similar to the council meeting rules in Provo, where he used to work. As for Wasatch County, the council chair can allow public comments at any time.

In Summit County Council meetings, the chair also has the authority to allow public comment anytime, but in practice, public comments outside of designated periods for it are rare.

In Park City Council meetings, there are public comment periods scheduled for each agenda item.

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