City Commission Changes Rules for Public Comments
By West Kentucky Star Staff
PADUCAH - At Monday's Paducah City Commission meeting, an ordinance was passed that changes how citizens can participate in the public comment portion of future meetings. 

In the August 27 meeting, an ordinance was introduced to no longer allow public comments on topics that are not part of the agenda for that meeting. Comments are also limited to three minutes each per topic.

In its second reading Monday, the ordinance was passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Richard Abraham voting no.

Commissioner Gerald Watkins supported the change, saying no other level of government allows citizens to address lawmakers in their chamber of government, and that other cities in Kentucky don't allow comments.

Watkins said, "If items that aren't on the agenda are addressed, we can't do anything about them anyway because they're not on the agenda. There's plenty of opportunities for the public to contact us, so we're not stifling anyone's opportunity for free expression. We're not impeding the First Amendment at all."

He said recent city meetings with disagreements during comments may lead some people and businesses to view Paducah as an undesirable destination. Commissioner Brenda McElroy said the tone of comment sessions has become disrespectful and intolerant at times.

Abraham said over the last two weeks, he has considered why the ordinance revision has been introduced. 

"We're changing it because we don't really feel real good about what's being said here. Now, you've got a right to say it. So, for me, that's not a good enough reason for me to change how we do what we've done in the past," Abraham said.

As commissioners discussed the change, no public input was allowed, since all comments are heard at the end of the meeting. When that time came, most of the next 25 minutes was about the ordinance. 

Brad Arterburn said, "Suppressing public speech is the tactic of tyrants. How does slashing public comment time by 40 percent from 5 minutes to 3 minutes and limiting public comments to topics on the agenda improve efficiency? It doesn't. Instead it restricts free speech." 

Tom Simpson recalled an email he sent to all of the commission members, but has only heard back from two of them and still hasn't had a face-to-face meeting. He suggested this is how anyone could now be treated, especially if there is a difference of opinion.
Simpson said, "I'm concerned that if you don't want to talk about something you're just going to bury it. I think if we don't agree with you, what you're gonna do is just keep pushing us off -  'oh, we'll set up a meeting, I'll call you, we'll email or we'll do something' - but I think you're just going to push us back."

The ordinance listed multiple ways that citizens may contact city leaders on non-agenda issues: email, telephone calls, social media, online forms and by arranging personal meetings. Commissioner Sandra Wilson and others stressed that in spite of the changes, they value communication with voters. 

The commission meeting was held a day early since several elected officials are leaving Tuesday as part of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce "Fly-in" to Washington, D.C.

Here is the complete ordinance:

ORDINANCE NO. 2019-___________________


WHEREAS, the City of Paducah’s Commission meetings are intended to facilitate decision making related to the business of the City;

WHEREAS, the City wishes to improve the efficiency of the Commission meetings by modifying the portion of the meetings set aside for speakers from the general public;

WHEREAS, members of the general public who wish to speak on any topic not discussed by the Commission at a particular Commission meeting have other opportunities to address concerns about the City’s business with the Board of Commissioners related to any topic including by email, telephone, and/or meetings with City Personnel;

WHEREAS, it is the Commission’s desire to amend Chapter 2 of the Paducah Code of Ordinances to only hear public comments at the Commission meetings on topics the Commission intends to discuss at said meetings.


SECTION 1. That the City of Paducah, Kentucky, hereby amends Chapter 2 of the Paducah Code of Ordinances as follows:

Sec. 2-145. – Order of business; names of members present to be noted; hearing of spectators.
       (a) The order of business for actions requiring a Board vote at meetings are as follows:
            (1) Resolutions.
            (2) Consent agenda.
                  a. Minutes.
                  b. Motions.
                  c. Municipal orders.
            (3) Ordinances.
            (4) Executive session.

       (b) Once minutes are approved, the minutes of every meeting must be signed by the City Clerk and by the presiding officer.

       (c) At the opening of all sessions of the Board of Commissioners, the City Clerk shall note in the minutes the names of all members of the Board who are present. After the Board shall have transacted all of its business by proceeding with the order of business as provided above, the Mayor shall recognize any person in attendance at a meeting who has signed up to speak using a public comments card and give such person an opportunity to be heard concerning [any matter requiring the attention of the Board] any Resolutions, items on the Consent Agenda, or Ordinances which were included on the Agenda for that meeting and about which the Board engaged in a vote or discussion at that meeting. The Mayor may set a time limit for speakers taking into account the number of persons wishing to speak and the length of time the Board has been meeting. As a general rule, no person shall be permitted to speak longer than [five (5)] three (3) minutes on any one (1) subject at any meeting of the Board. 

SECTION 2. This Ordinance shall be read on two separate days and become effective upon summary publication pursuant to KRS Chapter 424.

Brandi Harless, Mayor

Note: sections in [brackets] have been stricken from the ordinance and sections underlined have been added.

Published 08:12 PM, Monday Sep. 09, 2019
Updated 06:29 PM, Monday Sep. 16, 2019

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