London city council: Questions raised over public comment rules

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(Posted Jan. 11, 2022)

Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The council president’s power regarding public comment came into question at a recent London city council meeting.

On Jan. 6, council president Henry Comer initially denied resident Brendan Shea an opportunity to speak about the sanctuary city legislation council voted down last month. Had it passed, the legislation would have banned abortions within the city limits.

“All of the discussion on the sanctuary city has been disposed of, so we will no longer take city council time to discuss anything about the sanctuary city,” Comer said in regard to Shea’s request to speak during the portion of the meeting set aside for audience concerns.
Several council members objected to Comer’s decision.

“I personally think that if somebody from the community wants to come talk to us, if this is their only time they can talk to us, it shouldn’t matter what the subject is–even if it was something in the past,” said council member Josh Peters.

Newly elected council member Greg Eades said the rules of council state the council president can amend the amount of time an audience member can speak but state nothing about limiting audience participation based on topic.

Comer countered that he can use his discretion on speaking time to limit a person to zero minutes.

Council member Anthony Smith called Comer’s interpretation of the rules “inappropriate.”

After being denied, Shea submitted a second request to speak, changing his topic to the First Amendment. Comer gave him the floor. Shea thanked Peters, Eades and Smith for “standing up for the First Amendment.” He noted that as a member of the state board of education, he has seen a lawsuit result from that board’s president restricting public comment based on topic. He then asked Comer to grant him a new five minutes to speak about his original topic, the sanctuary city legislation.

“Why is this so important to keep bringing this back to city council when we’ve already disposed of it? This legislation did not pass,” Comer stated.

Shea said the comments he had prepared were more about governance in general, with the sanctuary city subject serving as a jumping-off point.

“This one time, I will allow it again,” Comer said, granting Shea five minutes to speak about his original topic.

Shea talked about the dangers of totalitarianism, saying people are losing faith in their institutions.

“This is a crisis for a constitutional republic like ours,” he said. “My plea to council is to be the change we wish to see at the local level. Regardless of your position on an issue, be transparent and honest with the citizens of London. Our society desperately needs it now, more than ever.”

He then reiterated data he had compiled and shared at previous meetings regarding the number of London residents who formally spoke for or against the abortion ban legislation. He presented the information to counter Comer’s statement at a meeting in December that the proposed legislation received a “sprinkling” of support.

Shea, who serves as president of Madison County Right To Life, also stated that council members could have come to him or Ohio Right To Life representatives with their concerns about potential financial and legal ramifications of the proposed legislation.

Later in the meeting, council member Bryan Robinson echoed Peters’s comments regarding public comment.

“It is important that we do hear our citizens,” he said. “So, we do need to make sure that our rules are written correctly to make sure we do hear them, even it is something that may be in the past and has no reflection on any meeting that we’re in.”

Appointments
Council approved Mayor Patrick Closser’s appointments to the city’s various boards and commissions:
• Michelle Anderson, Board of Zoning and Appeals, term ending Dec. 31, 2026;
• Phil Taylor, Historic District Review Board, term ending Dec. 31, 2024;
• Thomas Arrington, Civil Service Commission, term ending Dec. 31, 2027;
• Dr. Gregg Alexander, Planning Commission, term ending Dec. 31, 2027;
• Andrew Hitt, Tree Commission, term ending Dec. 31, 2025;
• William Long, Brenda Russell, Richard Hays, Andrew Hitt and Chuck Duvall, City Properties Committee, all terms ending Dec. 31, 2023; and
• Angela Eden, London Metropolitan Housing, term ending Dec. 31, 2026.

Additionally, Comer announced his council appointments for 2022:
• Personnel budget and finance committee–Josh Peters, chair; John Stahl; and Greg Eades;
• Public safety committee–Rich Hays, chair; Andrew Hitt; and John Stahl;
• Public service committee–Bryan Robinson, chair; Josh Peters; and Greg Eades;
• President pro tempore–Josh Peters; and
• Council clerk–Amy Rees.

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