The Yakima City Council decided Tuesday not to make any changes to its public comment process.
A resolution on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting proposed several changes to the process. One idea involved asking for all comment cards prior to the consent agenda and possibly shortening individual comment time, depending on the number of total cards submitted.
Each speaker is now allotted three minutes. Under the new resolution, for 10 to 19 comment cards, individuals’ time would’ve been reduced to two minutes. In the event of more than 20 comment cards, speakers’ time would’ve been cut to 90 seconds.
When all was said and done, the council decided that individuals can continue to speak for up to three minutes, regardless of how many people show up with something to say.
Public comment process
The council first broached the topic at an April 23 work session, with several council members noting that streamlining the public comment process could make for more consistent and orderly meetings.
Only two individuals spoke about proposed changes at Tuesday’s council meeting but were united in their message: They wanted their time.
Lynn Harden, a Yakima resident, said council members need to remember that their first task as elected officials is listening to and representing their constituents. Three minutes per speaker was not too much to ask, Harden said.
“Three minutes is a very small amount of time to address the council that is meant to reflect their interests,” Harden said.
The second speaker, Sandra Aguilar, represented a group of individuals belonging to the city’s community integration committee.
Aguilar, who is the committee’s chairwoman, said the committee had been tasked by the city to find ways to get members from underrepresented communities to become more involved with city politics.
Shortening speakers’ time sent exactly the wrong message, she said. Aguilar observed that it was already intimidating enough for people of color or who may not speak English as their first language to approach the council.
Aguilar invited the council to work with the committee to find ways to make council proceedings more safe, welcoming and inclusive for people — rather than more intimidating.
Councilman Brad Hill said he did not anticipate regularly having more than 20 comment cards at most council meetings. He could recall only two issues in the past year — pit bulls and the proposed downtown plaza — that had produced copious numbers of comment cards.
Councilwoman Carmen Mendez said she was happy to keep the three-minute rule in place.
“It’s an opportunity for constituents to come and discuss issues with us,” she said. “Three minutes is not a long time, and this is what we were elected for, to listen to our constituents.”
Councilman Jason White, who initially proposed the changes , said he also was fine with the three-minute limit, as it was crucial to hear constituent feedback.
Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez said that public comment did not always ensure a representative sample of perspectives but that everyone who did show up to council should be allowed to say what they had to say.
Councilwoman Holly Cousens agreed, but added that constituents should also feel free to contact their elected representatives outside the public comment period at City Hall.
The public comment format, in which city officials are meant to stay silent and simply absorb the comments, does not allow for questions or back-and-forth communication, Cousens said.