Residents who attend Janesville City Council meetings won’t see changes to the public comment period, at least for now.
The council could not reach a consensus during a study session Wednesday on whether changes to the public comment process are needed.
Council President Rich Gruber chose to leave the issue on the table, welcoming council members to advance proposals if they wish. Public comment will remain the same unless a council member requests to add the issue to a future agenda.
Under current ordinance, residents can speak about whatever they want for four minutes during public comment. Gruber and council member Tom Wolfe sponsored an ordinance in May that would limit public comments at council meetings to topics on the agenda.
Gruber said he believes the council needs to be transparent. He gives residents many opportunities to reach out to him via phone, email or in person.
City council meetings should focus on the business at hand, Gruber said.
Wolfe said he is concerned about people making harsh or untrue statements about the city or city council during public comment. He advocated for city council members to engage with people during public comment to ensure they have more accurate information.
Council member Jim Farrell said he thinks the city is too lenient on public comments, which can lead to personal attacks on city council members and staff.
Farrell said he intends to call a “point of order” from now on if someone delivers a personal attack during public comment. He also believes the city should have a stricter time limit on comments.
Council member Doug Marklein urged the council to keep the public comment period the same.
People get emotional because it takes time and courage to stand in front of the council and speak, Marklein said.
He questioned why the council would shut the door on transparency at a time when many people don’t think public officials are listening to them.
Council member Sue Conley said it is beneficial for people to have the opportunity to speak freely to the entire council.
Conley proposed a compromise that would allow the public to speak about agenda items for four minutes or nonagenda items for two minutes.
During his first few months on the council, Paul Benson said he has seen people make meandering comments but nothing dramatic enough to push for a change.
It might not be the most efficient use of time, Benson said, but he supports keeping public comment the same.