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Heber City Council changes public comment rules for its meetings

Heber City Hall is located at 75 North Main Street.
Ben Lasseter
Heber City Council meetings take place twice a month at City Hall, which is located at 75 North Main Street.

A new procedure for when the public can speak during Heber City Council meetings is now in effect after months of debate and fine tuning.

No more public speaking whenever the mayor says someone has permission. From now on, residents' comments during Heber City Council meetings will need to follow a structured schedule.

The council unanimously approved public comment changes last week - but only after more than an hour of debate that was just one portion of a seven-hour meeting. Council members said this year’s frequently long meetings are why they’re adding more structure to discussions.

With the new procedure, meetings will continue to begin with a 20-minute comment period for topics not on the agenda. After that, the public will have a fixed amount of time to speak during each agenda item, up to 3 minutes per speaker but not more than 10 minutes total.

“What I've seen in the last two years is as we are discussing items, someone from the audience wants to comment on the presenter, and then somebody else and then somebody else,” said Rachel Kahler, city councilmember. “My concern with not following a protocol is that it is now 10:40, and we have had the public sit here waiting for agenda items that we can't get to because we can't get through the business of the city. There's got to be a way that we can be more efficient in these meetings. We're not shutting down the public at all; what I'm asking for is a better way of running the meeting.”

The rule amendment passed after the council, mayor and city attorney discussed whether the changes would leave the public enough time to get their thoughts on the table before any council votes.

“The legislative branch is a marketplace of ideas,” Mayor Heidi Franco said. “You have to be open to hearing those ideas, no matter how long it takes, or how many times people might ask. This is just what we were elected for.”

She also said under the new system, the city should find other ways to work people’s opinions and questions into meeting conversations.

“We could work out a system where people could submit questions, and I could be looking at them when the presenter is talking and try to help address those things,” she said. “Or, we could even do a poll where they can submit questions through a poll, those survey polls where it shows in real time. We can come into the 21st century here.”

Council members and City Attorney Mark Smedley agreed the city should encourage residents to send emails ahead of meetings. They said that gives the city time to consider concerns, prepare questions for presenters and send more detailed responses than they might provide on the fly during meetings.

The Park City Council also allows limited public comment periods for each agenda item.

In Wasatch and Summit County meetings, the council chairs can allow public comments at any time.

A full report on the new rules can be found at heberut.gov.

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