Changes Floated for Planning Group’s Bylaws

In response to a debate at the Ann Arbor planning commission’s Oct. 15, 2013 meeting, commissioners are weighing a revision to their bylaws that clarifies the rules for speaking turns at public hearings. The revisions were brought up for review at the commission’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, but no vote was taken.

The idea would be to clarify the definition of a public hearing so that when a matter is postponed, its public hearing is continued – as opposed to starting a fresh public hearing. Applying a time limit of three minutes for each speaker would effectively rule out a situation where a person could speak multiple times in a public hearing on the same matter. But the bylaw revision being considered by the commission could explicitly rule out multiple speaking turns by the same person at a public hearing. The revision also provides a mechanism for an exception.

The proposed revision, which commissioner Jeremy Peters had crafted for consideration by his colleagues, would add two items to the rules on public hearings (Article VIII). [Italics indicates a portion of the proposal that at least some commissioners seemed inclined to delete from the new sections]:

Section 6. If an item on the agenda which has a public hearing attached to it is postponed or continued at a later date, the public hearing on the later date will be deemed to be a continuation of that original public hearing.

Section 7. Members of the public may only be allowed to speak once during the entirety of a single public hearing, but shall not be precluded from speaking at multiple public hearings on separate agenda items. The Chair may entertain a motion from the Commission to modify this rule to allow a second turn at comment, as it pertains to an individual agenda item, as the Commission deems appropriate, by majority vote.

The revisions would clarify a process that was debated by commissioners on Oct. 15, during the middle of a public hearing on downtown zoning changes. Before that hearing began, planning commission chair Kirk Westphal stated that the hearing would likely continue at a future meeting, but that speakers would be allowed only one turn during the entire hearing – either that night, or at a subsequent meeting. Midway through the hearing, Sabra Briere raised an objection to Westphal’s ruling, and commissioners spent about 20 minutes debating the issue.

During that debate, planning manager Wendy Rampson reported that the commission’s bylaws are silent on this issue. The commission ultimately voted to allow for people to speak more than once when the public hearing is continued, over the objection of Westphal, Diane Giannola and Wendy Woods.

The commission will likely vote on the proposed revisions at some upcoming meeting.

The bylaws were most recently revised at the commission’s July 16, 2013 meeting. Those changes related to the order of agenda items, and the length of time required for special accommodations, such as sign language interpreters. The changes approved by commissioners on July 16 are on the city council’s Nov. 7 agenda for approval. [.pdf of planning commission bylaws on Nov. 7 city council agenda]

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers at city hall, where the planning commission holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]