Roeland Park council may rescind public comment experiment

Council woman Jennifer Gunby

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — After a brief experiment with an expanded forum for public comment, the Roeland Park City Council may once again tell local residents to sit down and shut up during some meetings of the municipality’s governing body.

For the past three months, the council has toyed with the option of allowing the public to express comments and criticism during the city’s committee of the whole meetings, just one of a plethora of different gatherings elected officials hold.

They also have committee meetings and workshop meetings, but if matters progress as planned, monthly council meetings may be a resident’s only opportunity to sound-off in person before the entire council.

“It wasn’t driven by any of the recent meetings; this change has been coming for a little while,” said council woman Jennifer Gunby, who sat on a small committee of council members and municipal staff charged with examining the issue.

“There’s strong benefits to having public comment, and I don’t want to speak for the council members, but I think we all feel strongly that the more opportunities the better, but we have to do it within certain protocol, we have to follow procedures and make sure that we’ve got enough time to conduct council business, as well as hear from the public,” Gunby told Kansas Watchdog.

Councilwoman Theresa Kelly was a bit more direct in her comments Monday evening.

“I think we are more efficient and we get more things done in our discussion during our committee of the whole meetings. I’m torn with this because I’ve been on both sides of the bench and been real frustrated when I couldn’t have input into a committee of the whole meeting,” Kelly stated. “But at the same time that’s our discussion time.”

Listen to a recording of the Monday night meeting here; the good stuff starts at one hour, nine minutes.

While the matter hasn’t been passed along for a vote just yet, the rationale behind rescinding the option for public comment at some meetings is because of other methods of contacting elected officials; besides official council meetings, Gunby suggested concerned residents are always welcome to call or email council members.

“I do not have any insight on what the council will do with this recommendation, but it was the whole council that asked for this to be looked at,” Gunby said. “It was a very difficult decision for this group to make, we spent a lot of time looking through protocols and best practices and we’re trying to add as much public comment as possible.”

The Prairie Village Post reports that the city has seen a spike in public comments in recent weeks, largely driven by a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance targeted at protecting sexual orientation and gender identity. City administrator Aaron Otto told Kansas Watchdog the council has no official policy regarding public comment at committee of the whole meetings, which serve primarily as discussion forums for city officials before taking action during separate, monthly council meetings.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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