This is a modified version of a comment I posted on the Living in Hanover Facebook page.
Rules for public comment need to be in place. But where do those rules come from and why are they enacted? That’s the crux of this discussion. And, as a data-driven guy, I took a look at the numbers, based on council minutes.
The average council meeting from January 2013 to March 2014 lasted 52 minutes. Less than an hour! The median is 49 minutes. And that includes the full meeting time for the four joint-bid meetings, which are by each over an hour. So they skew the number a bit.
The meetings around the library controversy are the longest so any complaint by borough council that the meetings are too long because of public comment is undone by their own decision-making. Maybe if it had been handled differently, the discussion would have flowed differently and they wouldn’t have had to “endure” two hours of listening to people share their opinions.
Only one meeting exceeded two hours. One more exceeded 90 minutes. Eleven meetings went over an hour and half of those were joint bid events so seven of 28 meetings went over an hour solely because of borough business.
So we have established that the average council meeting takes less than an hour and only exceeds that hour about 25 percent of time time with a couple of exceptions. Since they have reduced official meetings to once a month, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Now let’s look at the issue of who is commenting since that has come up with council. Apparently, business owners who pay business taxes are not the audience they want to hear from. You could extrapolate that into saying that they have a problem with the opinion of these folks because they think they represent an oversized number of the speakers.
As Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend.” By my count, there were 68 instances of public comment in the same period I described above. With 28 meetings in the data set, that’s a little more than two people per meeting. That shouldn’t be a burden, in my opinion.
Of these speakers, 39 (57 percent) were borough residents as identified by their address. That may be higher because some business owners do not have their home address listed so I may be under counting. Another seven were what I will call “presenters.” These are official representatives of organizations like Main Street or the county redevelopment authority or state Rep. Will Tallman. That’s a shade over 10 percent of the speakers.
So non-residents or non-resident business owners account for 33 percent of the speakers in front of a body that averages less than an hour per meeting. Is that a burden that requires new rules to restrict their involvement? When answering that, folks need to remember that direct actions (or inaction) by council are the main reason these folks come to speak.
If they were more pro-active with keeping Pru Keffer up-to-date on what is happening at 217 Baltimore Street, she wouldn’t be “bothering” them. If they had thought through the library plans, Kathy Hoar wouldn’t take up their precious time.
This is an issue that municipalities have a right to set the guidelines, but I come back to my question from the beginning – do we need new guidelines? Is there a crisis in Hanover or does council just want to shut up a few select people because they find them to be an irritant?
I know what I think. And I think the numbers show a pretty clear picture too.