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Downey council considers changes in public comments

DOWNEY — The City Council May 14 agreed that public comments at council meetings are important, but clashed on when those comments should be made.

They directed Assistant City Manager John Oskoui to return at the next meeting with a public comment schedule which might satisfy the majority.

Currently, all public comments are allowed near the beginning of a meeting and residents may comment on each agenda item as the council discusses it. The current five-minute speaking limit would not change under a proposed new ordinance.

“The whole idea is to streamline the meeting and make it more efficient. We are allowing people to go on and on,” said Mayor Rick Rodriguez, who asked City Attorney Yvette Abich Garcia to draw up an ordinance amendment with a new procedure

He supported dividing the comments by having those pertaining to agenda items heard after the various presentations and proclamations and non-agenda comments coming at the end of the meeting with no comments after that.

Councilman Alex Saab objected to any change and said those with non-agenda items, such as street or neighborhood issues, should not be made to wait all night to speak. He also questioned only allowing residents to comment before the council discussed an item, saying “that may have unintended consequences,”

Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheco agreed, saying people might have a question after an item is discussed.

Garcia said the mayor has the authority to grant additional speaking time. However, his approval or denial of added speaking time could be overruled by a vote of three council members.

Councilman Sean Ashton said that while he supported the mayor’s attempt to “streamline meetings and make them more efficient,” there might be “repercussions” if residents who wanted to speak got tired and left.

“We want an open community,” Councilwoman Claudia Frometa said. Making people wait to comment may be a negative, she added.

Pacheco suggested that meetings be speeded up by reducing the number of presentations and proclamations, which could take up to an hour; or scheduling them earlier in the evening before the business meeting starts.

Frometa agreed, saying that while people who do good things for the city should be recognized, such awards could be limited.

But Ashton noted many parents whose children are to be honored work and might not be able to attend earlier sessions.

Resident Brian Heyman handed in a written objection to any change which might discourage residents from commenting, saying privately “delay of comment is denial of freedom.”

Rodriguez complained about “vulgarity and stupidity” in some comments, apparently referring to a frequent speaker who doesn’t give his name but has been identified as Alonzo Herman.

Herman often delivers loud and emotional tirades against public officials, decrying alleged corruption by those elected to local, county, state and national positions.

His use of profanity has drawn a rebuke from Rodriguez, who has been personally criticized by Herman. 

Resident John Lacy voiced concern that such public comments should not be made when there are children in the audience, often there for the presentations.

By Arnold Adler