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The City Journals

Put that pen down: City council to no longer read public comments in meetings

Oct 05, 2017 11:33AM ● By Jana Klopsch

South Salt Lake City Council voted to append written comments for city council meetings to those meeting’s minutes. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

Written letters sent to the South Salt Lake City Council to be read during city council meetings will no longer be read aloud after a unanimous vote from the city council on Sept. 6. 

Those letters will now be attached to the minutes for that meeting instead. The unanimous vote amended the council rules. 

Councilmember Ben Pender said his concern was that it’s easy for someone to sit on their sofa and write something derogatory to the mayor, council or staff. 

“I’m fine if they have to say that, but come here and say it then here in person. It’s an easy way out to do that,” Pender said. He added those written letters will still be available for people to read. 

Originally, council policy was that any citizen who can’t come to city council meetings could write up their public comment and submit it two hours prior to the meeting. The city recorder would then read the comment aloud for up to three minutes. 

Doug Ahlstrom, attorney for the city council, said Pender asked him about this procedure and Ahlstrom recommended those written comments simply be appended to the minutes. 

Another change suggested by Ahlstrom was that comments made during city council addressed to the mayor and city council should be civil in decorum, no one will be allowed to comment more than once and that speakers should not expect debate or dialogue with city council, staff or the mayor during the meeting. 

“It hopefully sends out a message to people, you have access to the mayor, you have access to the city council, you can talk with them anytime outside of the city meeting,” Ahlstrom said to the city council on Sept. 6. “The way to get the dialogue back and forth is to reach you before the meeting so it’s just a more effective way of running your meeting.” 

Conducting councilmembers for a given meeting will have discretion to who, if anyone, can respond to a comment or question. The council chairman or conducting council member would deem whether comments are civil or not. It will also be noted during the meeting when there are written comments attached to the minutes. 

Councilmember Johnny McConnell said he once read a letter aloud during a city council meeting that had a message he didn’t agree with. 

“For me to actually read it, I struggled with that,” he said. 

Councilmember Sharla Beverly expressed concern that this could deter citizen comment when she felt they had been working to find more ways for citizens to comment. 

But Councilmember Portia Mila said she thought this decision was a good compromise between councilmembers not reading letters they’re uncomfortable with and those who have too much anxiety to speak in front of others.

South Salt Lake City Council meetings are held the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers at city hall, located at 220 E. Morris Avenue.