Yes, it has become a problem. Shreveport city council meeting have become more of an open mike speakathon rather than a legislative session.
There are many factors that have , in effect, changed the basic atmosphere of council meetings. In no particular order these include:
1. Three new council members who have espoused a “people’s house” philosophy.
They obviously believe that those making pubic comments should be given more deference than those that communicate by email, text, phone call or in person outside council meetings.
In today’s world where practically every person over the age of 10 has a cell phone with internet access, communications with elected officials is easier than it has ever been. Of course, using this medium does not provide media coverage than undoubtedly contributes to grandstanding by speakers in front of the media and a large audience.
2. This council regularly fails to enforce its 3 minute rule for comments addressed to the council.
Part of the problem is that council vice president John Nickelson is generally the time-keeper, which has been the practice of prior councils. Nickelson has generally called “time”–but in the process he has subjected himself to racial baiting by many speakers. Nickelson is white and many who exceed the 3 minute rule are black..
3. The 4 black council members have failed to call out black speakers who make insulting, derogatory comments to Nickelson when he attempts to limit speakers to 3 minutes.
4. The council has failed to advise speakers of the 3 minute rule and no insulting, derogatory remarks before the public comment period. This should be done at each meeting. And it could be announced by the city marshals before the meeting begins. Audience members should also be advised to refrain from clapping, jeering, saying “amen”, etc.
5. The council has too often allowed speakers to continue talking after being notified of that time has expired. Council members should reinforce the announcement by the timekeeper of the time expiration. At the last council meeting 4 of the 10 speakers exceeded 3 minutes by over a minute. Additionally this council has voted too often to allow speakers additional time to speak in excess of the allotted 3 minutes.
6. The council’s amendment of its rule concerning the order of speakers has also contributed to both to number of speakers, excessive comments over 3 minutes and delay before the council considers legislative matters. Before the rule amendments, person could only speak on agenda items at work sessions. And at the regular meetings, only agenda items could be addressed before votes on legislative matters by the council. The reasons for these rules is simple–providing input to the council before votes. After the rule amendments people can talk about anything at both the work session and the regular council meeting before the ouncil addresses legislative matters.
7. The council has failed to cut off speakers addressing matters not within the purview of the council’s legislative authority. Too often speakers address concerns about other elected officials including the mayor, address matters totally within the duties of the administration, or just gripes in general.
8. This council has failed to acknowledge that the Louisiana Open Meetings Law only requires that comments be allowed on agenda items. Comments on non agenda items are not necessary for effective democracy and they are not “rights” guaranteed by any laws.
9. Too often speakers appear at several meetings and repeat their comments. An example is the 4 meetings–2 work sessions and 2 regular meetings–before the sagging pants ordinance was repealed. Council members could advise speakers that there were heard the first time and it is not necessary to repeat over and over the same comments.
As a result of all of the above, the real business of the council generally is delayed fro 60 to 90 minutes. Citizens, their advocates, legal council and advisors are punished by the unnecessary delays before votes on legislative matters. This experiment in “open democracy” has gone on too long. It time to go back to the old rules on speaker comments and enforce them strictly. And in the process to require that appropriate demeanor be followed by all who attend these meetings.