Mayor tests change in way public comment is handled

Public comment not required by Sunshine Law, Roby says

Gregg Roby

Gregg Roby

By Mike Anthony

Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby’s decision to “test” a change in the procedure for public comment at the April 14 Board of Aldermen meeting was sharply criticized by Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild.

For many years, the Board of Aldermen agenda has had a designated period for public comment for non-agenda items. In addition, residents have been allowed to address the board on all items as aldermen work their way through the agenda.

But Roby announced April 14 that he wanted to try having residents address the board solely during the designated period for public comment. Roby’s announcement came when the board reached the period for public comment on the agenda.

Earlier in the meeting, Duchild asked Roby why the language for the public-comment period on the agenda had been changed.

Until the April 14 meeting, the agenda stated, “Persons wishing to address the Board of Aldermen on issues that are not on the agenda should do so at this time. Persons wishing to address the Board on issues that are on the agenda will be given opportunity as subjects are discussed. Because of time constraints, you may be asked to limit the time of your comments.”

But the April 14 agenda stated, “Because of time constraints, you may be asked to limit the time of your comments.”

Duchild asked, “… I noticed item No. 6, public comment, on the agenda is missing some verbiage, and I’m wondering if that’s an oversight or a deliberate change?”

Roby replied he would read a statement when the board reached public comment. He also noted handouts with the statement had been placed in the back of the chambers.

Duchild said, “So, I don’t have a handout, so could you let us know because I think it impacts the next topic (a public hearing).”

Roby declined to read his statement, saying it would not impact the public hearing.

When the board reached public comment, Roby said, “The order of business which has been utilized at Board of Aldermen meetings includes a designated public-comment period. During this period, we welcome any and all comments regarding city business or activities. Please note that public comment on all matters, both for items on the agenda or off, should occur during the designated public-comment period.

“In the past, I’ve asked if the public has any comments during the board’s discussion and voting on ordinances and other matters of business. In order to effectively and efficiently conduct city business, I will no longer be asking tonight if there are any public comments specifically at the time of the reading of ordinances on the agenda. If you have public comment on a proposed ordinance or other matter of business on the agenda, we welcome it, but ask that it occur during the designated public-comment portion of the meeting. Please limit your comments to three minutes …”

Roby said he had been considering the change after discussions with other mayors.

“… We’re one of the only communities that allows … has allowed public discussion during Board of Aldermen city business …,” he said.

Longtime resident and former Ward 2 Alderman Robert Deutschmann asked Roby why he was making the change.

“I’m trying something different tonight. I’m not saying it’s going to be utilized forever, but I’m trying to make this board more efficient and to provide the board with an opportunity to conduct their business in a timely manner,” Roby said.

“The Missouri Sunshine Law does not even request or require public comment unless there’s a public hearing, and we have been allowing public comment here in Crestwood for years. And I’m not discontinuing that. All I’m asking that is any issue you want to speak on, whether it’s on the agenda or not on the agenda, that you can do so at this time, so that once public comment is over the board can complete and continue their order of business.”

Duchild later said, “… This is a Board of Aldermen meeting and the mayor did not consult the board on this change, which I believe is a major change to the agenda. So I’m really shocked that you would actually do this without consulting us first, and I would hope that the rest of my colleagues up here feel the same way …”

The Board of Aldermen sets the rules for its meetings, he continued.

“… We’ve done that by precedent over the years. The precedent, again, has been that for any agenda item, the public can speak at the time of that agenda item. For items that are not on the agenda, that’s what the public-comment period is for. So I would request that the mayor take a step back, ask the board — present this idea as an idea for the board because it is a Board of Aldermen meeting — to see if the board is OK with the change,” Duchild said. “And if so, the board would vote to make the change. I don’t believe that it’s appropriate that the mayor dictates this change …”

He noted that by limiting public comment to the designated period, residents would be unable to comment on items of business before that period, such as the approval of minutes.

In the past, residents have discovered inaccuracies in the minutes, Duchild said, later adding, “… So it’s really silencing the residents. All of you out there should be upset with this change because you’re being asked to be quiet …”

Roby interjected, “… Point of order — point of order — point of order …”

Duchild said, “I have the floor, Mayor.”

“No you don’t have the (floor),” Roby said as he hit his gavel. “You don’t have the floor. I just called point of order.”

Duchild said, “What’s your point?”

Roby said, “You just made (a) statement that was incorrect.”

Duchild said, “That’s not a point of order …”

“Yes, it is …,” Roby said, as he and Duchild talked over each other.

Duchild said, “… Express your point of order and then the board can vote to determine if there is a point of order to be called.”

Roby said, “I stated at the beginning of the meeting that this was a test for this evening, and that the board would decide whether they wanted to continue with this. This is a Board of Aldermen meeting. You are an elected official and as such, these citizens have the right to call you any time they want and pose a question to you …

“Your job as a representative of this city is to take requests and questions from your citizens, and if you’re going to tell the citizens here that the only time that they can pose a question to the city is when they come to a public-comment session here, then you’re not doing your job, sir. I’m sorry.”

Duchild said, “You did not express how I was out of order …”

Roby interjected, “I just explained to you.”

Duchild continued, “And I never said that’s the only time a resident can ask me a question or the board a question …”

For Tuesday night’s meeting, the public-comment issue was not on the board’s agenda. For the designated public-comment period, no additional language was included on the agenda.