Don’t let council changes limit your voice

Molly, used as the city's logo, is illuminated in the City Hall Council Chambers.
Molly, used as the city's logo, is illuminated in the City Hall Council Chambers.

Good government should have two things: engaged constituents and elected leaders who are willing to listen.

Given the handful of city council meetings held in recent months — each notable for the large crowd of people in attendance, many of whom addressed the council, and the city leaders who stayed to patiently hear them all — it would seem Fort Worth has both.

But some people are concerned that changes the council approved Tuesday, to the rules of procedure covering how the public can address them, will unduly restrain opportunities for public participation.

Per the council changes, residents will still be allowed to speak for three minutes; the mayor may reduce the limit to two minutes when the agenda is very long.

That doesn't worry us. Many people are able to make an argument in 144 characters thanks to Twitter.

Speakers who represent a group of 10 or more will now have six, not 10, minutes to speak. That doesn't worry us, either. Less is often more on such occasions.

In an effort to improve decorum and order at the meetings, attendees who are disruptive, who yell or use abusive or threatening language, will be given a warning, and potentially removed if the behavior persists.

That, too, seems reasonable. Good government also requires respect — for leaders and others in attendance who are there to listen and be heard.

The change that has some members of the Star-Telegram Editorial Board concerned is the new limits on speaker sign-ups. Beginning December 1, residents must be registered to speak by 5 p.m. the day of the meeting, instead of 6:45 p.m, just before the start.

Sign-ups can be completed online, in person or by calling the city secretary’s office. Speakers can leave a voicemail to sign up if they can’t call during office hours. Still, some people, especially those who work long hours, might lose opportunities to speak as a result.

Some Board members view this as unnecessarily restrictive. Others believe the change will make little difference to speakers motivated to take part in a city council discussion.

We do agree that our city leaders can always improve avenues to hear from constituents. That may mean moving public comment earlier in the meeting or extending public office hours. Both are worth considering.

The city council changes are not a sign that good government is gone, but they are a reminder that we must be vigilant in holding our leaders to account. And constituents who don’t like the changes should use the public comment time to make their concerns known.