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Compromise struck regarding public comments at council meetings

The public, and many on the city council, didn't get everything they wanted Monday night, but a compromise was struck regarding the public comment section of city council meetings.

Former councilwoman Bengie Aguilar expressed frustration with the newly-elected council since it no longer accepts public comment on agenda items planned for the meeting.

She said the previous council voluntarily suspended a city rule of procedure regarding allowing only comments "regarding items not on the agenda."

Mayor Ed Prilucik said he reinstated the rule this year. As a result, any citizen comment on an agenda item has had to first be submitted to Prilucik in writing, and then only allowed during the council meeting if he approves it.

Councilman Paul Garcia said if a citizens waits the entire meeting to speak their five minutes, then they should be able to talk about whatever they wish, including an item on the agenda.

"I don't mind hearing from the public on that," he said of agenda items. "We should allow it."

Seeing a consensus, Prilucik then agreed to suspend the city meeting rules so council could again hear from the public on agenda items.

But there was far from consensus, more of a divide, on whether the public comment period should be moved to the beginning of the meeting. Public comment currently is only accepted at the end of the meeting, unless there is a public hearing.

Mayor pro tem Jim Restucci was adamant about staying with the current format.

"I don't want to argue, but we're paid to do the city's business," Restucci said. "It's important that we run the meeting like a business meeting so we can get things done in a timely fashion."

Restucci cited examples of past meetings that lasted until 10 p.m., with consultants or those involved in presenting projects to council forced to wait an hour-and-a-half on public comment from past agenda items.

"I've been at those meetings until 10 p.m., too," countered Councilwoman Carol Stone, who frequently attended the meetings before her election to the council last November.

"If we need to be here that late to listen to public comment then so be it."

Added Sunnyside resident Don Outhet in favor of having public comment at the beginning of the meeting, "If I was a making a decision, I'd want to hear from everybody I could. If you wait for public comment until after you've made decisions, it's too late."

With council lacking consensus, the public comment period will remain at the end of the meeting.

Prilucik said public comment, including those on agenda items, will be accepted effective the next council meeting on March 27.

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