Aurora council votes to limit public comment despite earlier reluctance

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AURORA | A majority of Aurora City Council members voted on Monday to cut the first open public comment period during meetings down to an hour while eliminating the second period.

The open public comment periods at the start and end of meetings were previously not limited in length, which has occasionally allowed residents to testify for hours at a time on topics not on the agenda, such as the death of Elijah McClain at the hands of Aurora police and paramedics.

With the current three-minute cap on individual comments, the opportunity to talk about items not on the agenda would be limited to as few as 20 people per meeting. Councilors could still extend comment periods by a majority vote. The changes wouldn’t limit how long members of the public can speak to individual agenda items. 

Councilmember Dustin Zvonek sponsored the rules change and said it would demonstrate respect for staffers and other presenters who have shown up to speak on specific agenda items.

“Whenever you go over an hour, it’s not because there’s a bunch of citizens that just show up. It’s organized, outside groups that are trying to get people here to push an agenda,” Zvonek said. “When we get into those situations, it is grossly disrespectful to the people’s work.”

The council voted 6-5 to approve the change, with Mayor Mike Coffman breaking the tie in favor and council members Alison Coombs, Angela Lawson, Juan Marcano, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo opposed.

While the change was not cleared to move out of study session the week before, being rejected on a 6-4 split, the endorsement of councilmember Curtis Gardner guaranteed its success on Monday.

“I think it shows staff and the public that we take the business in front of us seriously,” he said of limiting open public comment.

Gardner tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution to limit the first comment period to 30 minutes rather than an hour.

Opponents said the change was “disincentivizing” members of the public from speaking to the council at public meetings, and Coombs challenged Zvonek’s statements about groups sharing concerns.

“It’s not only outside groups that can organize testimony,” Coombs said. “I think that we need to respect when our constituents decide to organize themselves on issues about which they’re passionate, and sometimes that’s in order to get those items on the agenda.”

“When you look up what are the responsibilities of a public servant, one of the things that I really adhere to is the promotion of dialogue, consultation and engagement with the public,” Lawson said, explaining her opposition to the change.

“I appreciate city staff staying, and I understand that you have families and things like that, but sometimes … that’s just the nature of the job.”

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Doug King
Doug King
4 months ago

“I think it shows staff and the public that we take the business in front of us seriously,” he said of limiting open public comment.” And this is the way to show the voting public that you are serious? By limiting how long the comment period is when they come to the council meeting ? I’m sorry, BUT WHO DO YOU PEOPLE WORK FOR ?????

Nilta
Nilta
4 months ago

“Whenever you go over an hour, it’s not because there’s a bunch of citizens that just show up. It’s organized, outside groups that are trying to get people here to push an agenda,” Zvonek said. “When we get into those situations, it is grossly disrespectful to the people’s work.”

Those three sentences encapsulates what these extreme right members stand for. They ran to make as many changes as possible before the community tires of them. “Pushing an agenda” depends on whether they agree with what is stated during the allowed 3 minutes. Representative government at its finest.

There are consequences for not participating in every election.

sugar
sugar
4 months ago
Reply to  Nilta

I wonder about the timing of this. . limiting our voices. What are they planning? Commerce City Council lets everyone speak for as long as it takes.
That’s democracy for you — not like Aurora City Council.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

This was a foregone conclusion and we can expect more of this type of thing from the current council. It’s what we allowed when we failed to vote last November. Elections do indeed have consequences.

Publius
Publius
4 months ago

Meetings could be shortened if council members could resist the siren call of hearing their own voices. Many times I have heard a council person begin their remarks by saying they would like to reiterate, once again, their previous point. If you have to reiterate, once again, a previous point you are admitting you think your previous point was so weak as to be lost. Reiteration only wastes time, it does not strengthen your point. Council, stop wasting staff time by belaboring your points.

Dean
4 months ago

“When you look up what are the responsibilities of a public servant, one of the things that I really adhere to is the promotion of dialogue, consultation and engagement with the public,” Lawson said…“When you look up what are the responsibilities of a public servant, one of the things that I really adhere to is the promotion of dialogue, consultation and engagement with the public,” Lawson said…
 
Speaking of engagement and inherent duty to the public. The paragraph before Lawsons statement, CM Combs, agonizes and comes with specific labeling rationing time to speak as a public disincentive- lack of interest- will be the result.  She’s got chutzpah, and demonstrates it weekly by refusing to show at the dais, but rather bless us through virtual appearance from her nicely- seated throne. You talk about presumptuous royalty existing at city hall. 
How long does this persona representation go on?
 

Tawny Fox
Tawny Fox
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

I’d rather an engaged public servant that attends via Zoom than a mayor that has to ask what is going on for half the meeting.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

as long as needed when you are adhering to public health recommendations for immune-compromised and we respect her for it. It takes nothing away from the relevance and effectiveness of her participation.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
4 months ago

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address ran only 270 words and changed the world. No one recalls the blathering speaker that preceded him.

A better compromise: Cut the time to two minutes each.

sugar
sugar
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Brown

I’m curious Jeff – have you ever testified before City
Council?

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
4 months ago
Reply to  sugar

Nope. I realize that the venue is already full of distractions and a poor choice for communication. I submit my comments concisely and with backup in writing.

Susan
Susan
4 months ago

I guess some of these council members are not aware that they represent the people of Aurora. They think they represent themselves, their businesses, the mayor, and their own self interests.  What and who are they afraid of? Oh, it must be the people they supposedly represent.  

Tawny Fox
Tawny Fox
4 months ago

If they want to show respect for the staff, maybe the mayor could actually listen during Council meetings? The amount of time I had to listen to him ask what was going on during this past Monday’s meeting surely exceeded 30 minutes.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
4 months ago

The Mayor pays no attention in these meetings, and wastes everyone’s time continually asking what’s going on. Maybe we could stop him speaking and give the time to the public.