Policy update strives to shorten council meetings during controversial issues
When a heated topic hits the city, council meetings will now be more time-efficient.
At least that’s the hope behind the Shawnee City Council’s latest policy change.
At its meeting last week, the governing body unanimously approved a provision to the city’s conduct of public meetings policy, which will allow one spokesperson for a neighborhood or group, related to a specific issue, to have a longer period of time to speak during public comment.
For example, if several residents in a neighborhood are protesting a proposed development, those neighbors could group together and allocate one spokesperson to voice their concerns in a formal or informal presentation to the council, rather than each person going up to the podium to express nearly the same thing repeatedly.
The goal is to keep council meetings shorter and to allow residents the opportunity to collaborate on their stance.
The policy’s original rule of five minutes of speaking time per resident during public comment will not be affected.
The provision was simply added for those residents who want to use it.
The time frame for the spokesperson’s presentation will be 30 minutes, with extensions permitted as necessary.
A minimum of 10 residents must be represented for the group, which the council is calling a Citizen’s Interest Group.
Each CIG will be allowed to use an electronic presentation, or present from written comments.
Reading letters from other individuals, however, will not be permitted.
During the meeting, Shawnee resident Roger Chalk told the council that he thinks the provision is an excellent step forward.
“I commend the council for looking at this,” he said. “Having been a member of a group who has heard the gavel on numerous occasions near the end of five minutes, I think this is appropriate.”
But Chalk was concerned about the fact that the provision states a copy of the presentation or comments should be provided to the city clerk by noon on the Thursday prior to the Monday meeting.
“A group of that many people putting together a document takes time and if we’re going to be giving you everything we want to say and can’t deviate from that, I don’t see the point in getting up here to talk,” he said.
A few council members said they understood his dilemma.
Councilman Dan Pflumm agreed with Chalk.
“The people who want to get up to talk may not get the information they want to talk about until it goes online Thursday or Friday, so how are they going to know?” he asked the rest of the council. “There’s just no possible way for them to know what to put in their presentation.”
Councilman Jeff Vaught, however, pointed out that if a CIG is created, it’s most likely going to be for a big issue, such as zoning or development, which will include other public input meetings beforehand, giving residents enough time to establish a presentation.
He told the council he felt Thursday was plenty of time.
“I don’t want to have it on Monday afternoon,” Vaught said. “If we’re going to have a 20 minute presentation and several pages of information, it’s hard for us to get our head around it or have a discussion at a council meeting if we don’t have time to look at it.”
He added that he doesn’t think the information provided on Thursday has to be an exact play-by-play, but it should at least offer what issues are being raised and the major concerns of the residents, just so the council knows what’s going on.
Councilman Mike Kemmling agreed.
He said he thought the wording in the provision was flexible enough, where the information provided on Thursday didn’t have to be the exact presentation.
Mayor Michelle Distler explained to Chalk that it’s actually in the CIG’s best interest to present their information on Thursday, because it gives the council more time to reflect on their comments.
Anyone interested in learning more about the provision should visit the city’s website, www.cityofshawnee.org.
Additional council actions
At its meeting last week, the council also approved two special use permits for incoming city businesses.
The council unanimously approved a special use permit for E-Sports Arena, a drinking establishment with live entertainment in the form of video gaming and billiard tables.
The proposed establishment would be in the north portion of the existing Star Cleaners building, 7470 Nieman Road in the Trailridge Shopping Center.
The proposal primarily involves video console gaming in a lounge environment.
It also includes nine wall-mounted television monitors in front of couch and floor seating, eight additional vending and floor-mounted video games, and a bar area.
The council also unanimously approved a special use permit for a self-storage facility, Attic Storage of Shawnee, to be constructed in the 20300 block of W. 66th Terrace.
The property includes residential quarters for an overnight manager who would live on site full-time. This person would be responsible for overnight security and monitoring site visits by customers.
Both special-use permits will be reviewed by the council again in a year.