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Morrow officials clarify public comment changes

— Proposed changes to public comment at Morrow City Council meetings is not intended to curtail residents’ ability to offer input on the town’s affairs, claim city officials.

The city is in the process of mapping out possible changes to its public comment procedures. Officials stressed the changes will not be done to control the message residents send to the City Council. One of their proposals would even add a new public comment period to meetings so residents could plea with their elected leaders to approve or reject items scheduled for a vote.

“The last thing you want to do is stop the public from commenting,” City Manager Jeff Eady said.

There is still a lot left to be sorted out about public comment in Morrow. For starters, the City Council still has not decided when to let residents speak during council meetings. However, one change that appears to be set in stone, regardless of when members of the public speak at meetings, is a new three-minute time limit on remarks.

Residents will also have to sign up before the meeting before being allowed to participate in public commenting.

Under one proposal, residents would get to speak after the “First Presentations” portion of council meetings, and before items up for a vote are considered. “That public comment is specifically for the agenda items that are on the agenda of the council,” Eady said.

The city manager added there would be a separate general comment period at the end of the meeting where residents could talk about non-agenda items under this proposal.

“You want the public to offer comment,” Eady said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Why not let the public have a chance to comment on the agenda item before you vote on it?’ ”

Under a second proposal, the city council would virtually keep the same public comment format it currently has in place, where a general comment period exists at the end of the meeting and residents can speak on any topic of their choosing.

The big difference would be the addition of a decorum requirement which would prohibit behavior such as abusive attacks on other people, debating with members of the audience and the use of that time to promote a business.

Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke said the addition of a decorum requirement was one of the most attractive features of this proposal for him. “I think we need to do something, and I think it needs to be controlled,” he said.

City Clerk Evyonne Browning said a similar decorum requirement would be included with the other proposal as well.