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.”