Lander councilmember, residents push back on new public comment policy

Three people voiced opposition to the Lander City Council’s new public comment policy during a meeting this week.

One of them was Councilmember Julia Stuble.

During the “council updates” portion of the meeting, Stuble asked Mayor Monte Richardson to clarify the details of the new policy, which requires citizens to sign up with the city in advance if they plan to speak about an agenda item during a council meeting.

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Richardson said the change would help the council prepare to answer questions from the public – instead of feeling like “we don’t know what to say, or what they’re wanting from us.”

“The problem is, I felt like our public comment was getting out of control,” he said. “Topics came up that we weren’t even ready to discuss, or we didn’t need to discuss.

“This way we narrowed it down.”

Stuble said she agreed with limiting public comment to agenda topics only, but she wondered what the deadline would be for signing up to speak at council meetings, which are usually held on Tuesdays.

Richardson offered an initial answer: the Friday beforehand – one day after the meeting agenda is published.

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Stuble thought that plan gave citizens too little time to sign up.

“I do oppose this change,” she said. “I respect your intentions and understand what you’re trying to get at, (but) I do think that signing up with 24 hours’ notice has a chilling effect, and that will have an impact on the types of comments we do hear, which we need to hear, to inform our decisions. …

“I just want to register my opposition to signing up in advance.”

New deadline

Richardson pointed out that two people contacted him this week asking to speak during Tuesday’s meeting, and both were permitted to do so.

One was Sarah Dike, who had asked to participate in the ward map discussion that was on the council’s agenda for the evening.

When she was invited to the podium, however, Dike began her statement by saying, “I think that your new policy is wrong and shouldn’t be implemented for public comment.”

She had only asked permission to speak this week because the ward map discussion was part of a council work session, which typically does not feature public comment, Dike explained.

She proceeded to present her position on the ward maps, then concluded by reiterating, “I don’t think it’s reasonable to put out a city council agenda on Thursday and ask citizens to request to make a public comment by Friday for a meeting that’s not happening until Tuesday.”

In response, Richardson said he would accept public comment requests through the Monday before each meeting.

“Good, I’m glad to hear that,” Dike replied, but she also maintained that it was “unreasonable” to have people “ask in advance to speak at a public meeting” at all.

“(We have to) contribute to the conversation as it’s happening,” Dike said. “(Council members) want to be able to be prepared, but sometimes as public officials you need to be caught off guard, because that’s part of your job.”

Another citizen who spoke Tuesday cited Article 1, Section 21 of the Wyoming Constitution, which says the right of the people to peaceably “assemble to consult for the common good, and to make known their opinions, shall never be denied or abridged.”

She also mentioned Wyoming Statute 16-4-403, which says “a member of the public is not required as a condition of attendance at any meeting to register his name, to supply information, to complete a questionnaire, or fulfill any other condition precedent to his attendance,” though “a person seeking recognition at the meeting may be required to give his name and affiliation.”

The changes to Lander’s public comment policy are scheduled to go into effect July 12.

For more information call the City of Lander at 332-2870.

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