Public communications added to city meetings
By Brian L. Gray
The opportunity to speak your mind with your local city leaders will now be provided to you, as the Mandan City Commission has approved adding a public communications section to all of its future commission meeting agendas.
The motion was approved during the commission’s Jan. 15 public meeting. City Administrator Jim Neubauer says adding a public communications section will help to clear up any confusion residents may have in knowing at what point during the meetings they are able to speak to the commissioners. “Oftentimes, when a member of the public is sitting here (at a meeting), they’re not sure when it’s their time to speak. Placing this agenda item will allow them to speak their mind and say their peace to the commission,” he said.
The agenda item will be placed at the beginning of each meeting, “so people won’t have to sit through the whole meeting if they don’t want to,” Neubauer said.
The commission’s approval reflects a move made by the Mandan School Board, which has had a public communications agenda item for several years. Neubauer met with members of the school administrative staff, who said the item has been a very useful and valuable tool in allowing the public to voice their opinions.
The city chose to take its own liberties different from how the school board handles public communications. While the school board allows a person to speak for up to five minutes, members of the public will be allowed to talk for up to three minutes to the commission. And where the public is limited to speak only about items that are listed on the agenda during school board meetings, anyone who speaks at a city commission meeting will be free to speak on any given topic they would like to speak on.
Commissioner Dot Frank proposed the idea of adding a sign-on sheet that members of the public can sign to notify the commission in advance if they want to speak to the commission. If a person who wishes to speak does not sign in, they will be allowed one minute to speak.
“I think this is a true public forum, and people should be able to talk about any issues that we handle as a commission,” Frank said.
Commissioner Dennis Rohr pointed out that giving the public the ability to speak on any topic will mean there will be situations where the commission will not be fully prepared to offer any answers. “Leaving it open like this, we may not be prepared to answer their concerns, so they may have to return at a later meeting,” he said.
“A person can also be directed to staff members to take care of the issue,” Neubauer said.
The commission will also adopt a policy regarding public communication that will be added to the city’s website, which will illustrate the steps someone can take in speaking during a commission meeting.
“We’ve had meetings where people have had to sit for 2 1/2 hours or longer,” said Mandan Mayor Arlen Van Beek. “It’s a busy world these days, and if we give them that time to speak at the beginning of the agenda, it better serves them.”