Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 3 Minute Rule

During Tuesday’s meeting Commissioner Ben Preston brought up something that has been a bone of contention for me for years - the uneven application of the rules covering the three minutes the public is allowed to address the commission.

A person has three minutes only, to speak his or her piece. This might be at the beginning of the meeting if applied for in writing in advance. It might be in reaction to a public hearing item on the agenda, or at the end of the meeting without prior notice.

What happens in reality is the three minute rule is flexible depending on who you are and who you know. The mayor is supposed to enforce the rule; the city clerk times the speakers and notifies them when the time is up.

Often the speaker wants to say a few more sentences or maybe more than a few; that is when the mayor and her hammer come into it. She is supposed to end it there and then and get the speaker to sit down. If they are stubborn the BSO officer escorts them away from the mike.

However, depending on the situation, the three minutes can be 4 or 6 or more. The most frequent transgressors are the mayor’s favorites. When one of her pets or a favored lobbyist gets up to speak and runs a little over she gives her famous helpless eye squint and shoulder shrug and with a wave of her hand allows the extra time.

Contrast that with what happens when an “ordinary” resident, or one out of favor steps up to speak and the buzzer sounds the end; many people are allowed to finish a thought or sentence but, depending on who they are, others are not even allowed this courtesy. To these un-favored, Noland’s reaction would have listeners believe that civilization as we know it would come to an end if an extra 5 seconds were permitted. She jumps right in at the sound of the buzzer and if her curt “Sorry, time’s up” doesn’t do it she can get downright nasty and personal, taking up far more time than the speaker wanted to begin with.

Commissioner Preston’s apology to the other commissioners for asking that one of his constituents be given a little more time was accepted by the Mayor without even a hint of irony. Not one of the commissioners spoke up to say that they had all done the same thing at one time. He was left feeling that he had indeed done something wrong, and that isn’t right.

I urge the commission to think about this, I urge the commission to apply the rules evenhandedly. I urge the commission to recognize that all residents have the same rights to their three minutes and to the application of the exceptions to the rule. What you do for one, you must do for all. Fair’s fair.

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