I am writing to express opposition to a recent Jersey City Municipal Council effort introducing an ordinance that would place a time limit on speakers who comment during the second reading of an ordinance.
At present, speakers can take as long as necessary to address an ordinance. There are many times that this is the one and only time to speak publicly on an ordinance before it is adopted. The time given to this legally-mandated opportunity to address our city’s legislation is a small cost to our democracy.
Like many people who participate by speaking or just listening, I have attended council meetings that have extended well past midnight and like many people who attend, I also would prefer to be home with my family, but instead choose to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in our public process.
I do believe that speakers would be much more effective if they would gather their thoughts and speak concisely. However, we are just regular people and unfortunately are not always experienced in public speaking. This does not mean that what we have to say isn’t just as important as those who are. Notably a five-minute limit may not be enough time to question or address the budget and land use issues.
There are other, better ways the council can cut the length of its meetings: Start on time, minimize the time spent on pre-session awards, citations and honors that include photo-ops and council speeches (this can be done at other times or events,) balance out and distribute issues across meetings so hot or controversial issues are not lumped together, the council president could exercise more control over the commentary of the public and council to keep it on topic and prevent it from being repetitive and lastly consider holding the public comment portion at the beginning of the meeting.
There are many bigger, more pressing issues facing our council and city than fine tuning how meetings run and other, better ways to address it. Reducing or restricting public participation is the wrong path to take. Most council members worked very hard for the opportunity to serve. They should accept that it entails listening to those who come out to speak.
I ask our City Council to reject this proposal and get back to the issue at hand – governing our city, and they can start with approving the municipal budget which is again, like most years, late.