Rules set to stop unruly meetings

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone City Commission made a few changes to the way it does business during its meeting Monday night, including changing the times of meetings and setting forth procedures for unruly speakers during public comment periods.

Commissioners hope the newly-adopted city commission rules of procedure will make meetings more productive. One of the greatest hinderances to conducting business in the past has been when meetings become exceptionally long, either due to commissioner discussion or a large amount of public comment. Over the past couple of years, meetings over two hours have not been uncommon, with some meetings stretching upwards of four hours — far beyond what commissioners feel is good for decision making.

“I think when you’re here that long your decision making process is pretty much shot,” said Commissioner Dave Phalen.

The plan for combatting these exceptionally long meetings is two-fold: change the meeting time from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. and set a generally excepted end-time for meetings that run long. The newly-approved rules state that no new business at meetings may be discussed after 10 p.m., with all unfinished businesses being tabled to the next regular commission meeting. This allows the commissioners to finish discussing whatever agenda item they may be on while still ensuring the meeting ends promptly.

However, if the commission is on a deadline or otherwise feels the issues at hand should be dealt with at that meeting, the commissioners can vote to continue the meeting past the 10 p.m. stopping point.

The meeting time changes do not affect the city’s reorganizational meeting, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. on the first Monday following a regular city election. It is at this meeting the commission selects a mayor and all newly- elected commissioners are sworn in, and the time of the meeting is specifically stated in the city’s charter.

Depending on what items are included on the agenda, public comment periods at meetings have also been known to run long. Historically, Gladstone has had two public comment periods, one at the beginning of the meeting to discuss only items included on that meeting’s agenda and one at the end of the meeting, where the public can comment on any issues.

The commissioners voted Monday to abolish the second public comment period and open up the first period to all topics of discussion. In addition, the commission moved any public hearings scheduled for the meeting to immediately before the public comment period, which ensures residents speak about public hearing issues at the appropriate time and not during a public comment period.

What can and cannot be said during public comment and during public hearings is also expressly laid out in the new rules. Speakers are forbidden from verbally attacking the commissioners, city staff, or other members of the public attending the meeting. Anyone who does so will be removed from the meeting by a public safety officer.

In addition, no vulgar or obscene language will be tolerated and speakers may not ask questions of the commission or staff, as the public comment period is not intended to be a discussion.

“After the meeting, if you want to get an answer, we will be available, but during the formal part of the meeting we would not (answer),” said City Manager Darcy Long.

Speakers who wish to distribute materials to the commission must first ask the mayor if they may present written comments at the meeting. In the past, some residents have attended meetings with stapled handouts containing multiple pages of their comments.

The rules of procedure also allow for the commissioners to utilize more technology. The rules explicitly state the meetings will be broadcast over the Internet — a move already adopted by the commission earlier this year — and allows for the creation of a digital agenda distribution ordinance. The city intends to test a digital distribution method in the near future, where commissioners will have access to iPads for viewing meeting documents.

In other business, the commission approved moving delinquent bills and special assessments to the winter tax bill and approved the “Community Investment Plan Ordinance,” which establishes procedures for capital improvement-related spending and budgeting.