One of Sweetie Marbury’s first official actions as Durango mayor was to reduce the amount of time residents can speak at City Council meetings, from five minutes to three minutes.
Marbury, who took the gavel last month for the second time, said the change was necessary to speed up City Council meetings. But some residents say the rule change limits public input on important subjects.
“There is a new mayor in town, and with that comes new procedures,” Marbury told audience members earlier this month when announcing the new rule.
In addition to reducing speakers’ time, City Council now requires residents to sign in if they want to give public comment and also prohibits residents from asking the council during a meeting to remove items from the consent agenda, a list of noncontroversial items that are approved by a single motion at the beginning of the meeting. Now, only city councilors can remove consent agenda items for discussion.
Marbury didn’t make the changes unilaterally; fellow councilors agreed to them ahead of a recent retreat, she said.
“We feel like the meeting moves along faster and it’s more efficient,” she said.
In the past, contentious City Council meetings could last six or seven hours.
The new rules are standard procedure for many city councils, said Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League.
“The alternative invites chaos,” he said.
Some residents said the new rules cut into their ability to express concerns and opinions.
The reduction in speaking time from five minutes to three minutes is “outrageous,” said Blake Fredrickson, a Durango resident who participated in a recent meeting. Expressing more than one idea in three minutes is nearly impossible, he said.
Durango resident Lynne Sholler was cut short earlier this month while addressing councilors on the city’s controversial ordinance banning sitting and lying on public sidewalks.
“There were many other points I would have liked to make,” she told the Herald.
Councilors said if residents are organized, three minutes should be plenty of time to share feedback.
“I don’t think it diminished the dialogue to have more focused remarks,” Councilor Dick White said.
Some residents have also expressed reservations about the requirement to sign in before speaking. The council provides sign-in sheets for each topic that is open to public discussion or public participation during meetings. After signing in, participants are called to the podium by the mayor.
“There is no rationale for this except to try to limit the number of speakers,” resident John Simpson wrote in an email to the Herald.
While some cities use sign-up sheets to create order, they also allow attendees who have not signed up to provide comment, Simpson said.
Sholler said the sign-in sheet could keep those who show up late from speaking.
White encouraged latecomers not to be shy about approaching the tables in front of the dais and signing in to speak.
As for limiting residents from taking items off the consent agenda, White said he would be happy to allow for public discussion on a consent agenda item if he heard concerns from a resident ahead of the meeting.
“If someone made that request, I would feel pretty much bound to honor it,” he said.