There is a reason Henry Martyn Roberts wrote what would eventually become a guideline for public meetings across the country. The former Army officer couldn’t stand the chaos he walked into the first time he presided over a public meeting in 1870 and decided to pen what would become known as Robert’s Rules of Order.
It would serve the Occupy Roseburg coalition and others well to find a copy of those rules if they ever hope to work effectively with the Roseburg City Council.
During its Aug. 26 meeting, the council was overwhelmed by members of Occupy Roseburg, who have been lobbying the city for a homeless camp. Rather than schedule some time on the agenda — which requires some coordination in advance — the Occupy advocates chose instead to use the public comment period at the start of the meeting to make their arguments.
Unfortunately, many of those who paraded to the podium failed to follow the rules that were clearly outlined on the agenda. According to those rules, each speaker is allotted six minutes.
It’s a rule designed to ensure that the meetings don’t last all night and that those who bothered to get on the agenda have time to address their issues with the council.
The mayor presides over the council meetings and Mayor Larry Rich did his best to get through the public comment period as quickly as possible, while allowing those who wanted to address the council enough time to make a point. If you come prepared, you can make some pretty good points in six minutes.
In fact, had the Occupy Roseburg coalition bothered to get on the agenda, its members would have had as long as they needed to address the serious issue of homelessness in Roseburg. There are no time limits on agenda items.
“We decided we wanted to move it (the issue) along as quickly as we could and thought doing the participation at the beginning would be a little faster than the process of finding out how to get on the agenda,” Occupy Roseburg member Jeri Benedetto said.
The problem with that is the council can’t take any action on items not on the agenda, so there really is only one way for the Occupy Roseburg folks to get the city to respond.
Some councilors now wonder if it would be better to put the public comment period at the end of the meetings, a move they say will allow those who are on the agenda a chance to be heard in a timely fashion.
We don’t think that’s a good idea. Since the agenda items don’t have time limits, someone who simply wants to address the council within the six minute limit on an item not on the agenda would have to sit through the entire meeting first. That doesn’t seem fair for those willing to follow the rules.
As Henry Martyn Roberts discovered, there is a reason for rules. In the case of public meetings it’s to prevent the kind of chaos that greeted the Roseburg City Council last week. We’d prefer to see those rules enforced and if that means removing those who refuse to follow those rules, so be it.