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Public Comment at City Council

First published in the Aug. 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

If we have learned nothing else from events of the last few years, we have learned that people want their government leaders to listen to them.
And so, it was remarkable that on July 26 the Burbank City Council took away an opportunity to listen to the people, and hear their opinions, before that same council votes on an agenda item. The council did this by voting 3-1 (I opposed, member Frutos was absent) to remove public comment immediately after a staff report on a specific agenda item and before the council votes on that agenda item. This removes the public’s ability to respond to the same staff report, same presentation and same recommendations that are seen and heard by City Council on that agenda item.
Opportunity for full public participation in decisions by local government that affect our lives must win out over a temporary lull due to COVID, or a “chance of confusion” induced by the process and the mayoral script. Participation is already increasing as we emerge from COVID. Instructions on the most appropriate time to comment: General Public Comment at the beginning of a meeting and/or comment after a staff report on a specific agenda item can be clarified to reduce the “chance of confusion.”
There is no fiscal impact in allowing a comment period after staff reports on specific agenda items. The only burden is on the member of the public who chooses to appear, sit there and speak on a specific agenda item at the point in time that the item comes up.
Addition of more “general public comment” time, at the beginning of a meeting, does not fill the void of removing public comment after staff reports on specific agenda items. Public comment at the end of the meeting serves a different purpose but does nothing to allow the public to impact the council’s decision before a decision is made.
Our community wants a forum to air their concerns and wherein they have a genuine opportunity to effectuate change. It’s a matter of “best practices” on the part of our local government.

Sharon Springer
Burbank City Councilwoman

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