Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seeking Community Standard for Public Input

At the Monday, January 30th Information Meeting, Sue Roust, Interim City Clerk, presented public input research she collected through contacting various jurisdictions used by the HR Department for salary benefit comparisons. Roust stated that Sioux Falls' community standards are towards much more openness and public input than most other places.

Public input standards usually relate to the following:
  • Requirement to sign up in advance.
  • Allowing public input on non-agenda items.
  • Allowing a response to a citizen comment/input.
  • When should public input be allowed on a public council meeting agenda?
As Roust said, Sioux Falls city government and the SF School District lean towards more openness and public input than most other jurisdictions she looked at in her research. Some jurisdictions require sign up before the meeting starts; one jurisdiction requires a citizen to fill out a request by Wednesday Noon before a Monday council meeting. Omaha, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bismark don't allow public input on non-agenda items. Sioux City allows public input at the end of their meeting. Cedar Rapids allows public input after a public hearing.

Councilor Jamison asked for information regarding Aberdeen and Rapid City which was left off the research because it was not on the HR comparability list. I went out and looked at these two websites.

  • The City of Aberdeen provides an open forum from 5:30 p.m. to 5:40 p.m. which occurs after the Proclamations and before the Consent Agenda approval. The rules for the Open Forum are printed right on the agenda. It says that the Open Forum provides an opportunity for the public to address the city council with concerns, questions or comments on items which are not on the agenda. They have sign up prior to the start of the meeting. A majority of the council can agree to extend the time period. Presentations cannot exceed two minutes in duration. The forum cannot be used to make personal attacks, air personality grievances or make political endorsements. It cannot be used as a time for problem solving or reacting to comments made.
  • The City of Rapid City allows for General Public Comment after the adoption of the agenda and presentation of awards and recognition and before the consent agenda. The official agenda states it is a time for members of the public to address or express concern to the council on any issue not on the agenda.
Conclusion?  It depends on the community and the standards that jurisdiction wishes to impose on its citizenry. You can research jurisdictions all over the country and come up with variations on how local government handles public input.  What is important is what level of open government do you want in this community? Elected officials, in my opinion, set standards on public input based on a tolerance scale. That is, their own tolerance scale. They can tolerate public input as long as it does not address a concern or criticism about their own actions.

Councilor Karsky stated he advocates looking at adjusting the public input standard and wants to put public input at the end of a council meeting because he is concerned about all those city employees and those who come to speak to a specific agenda item.  Councilor Jamison stated it should be looked at to make it better. Councilor Rolfing asked the topic be sent to the next working sessions so they all could discuss it more fully.

When you start making rules to censure public input, you start down a path that is going to create controversy and dissent. It is a slippery slope fraught with charges of tampering with free speech and openness and transparency in government. The public input provision may make some elected officials uncomfortable. So what? When you become comfortable and no one is allowed to speak up and challenge an elected official is when democracy takes a back seat to good government.

What should be the community standard for public input? I think we have one already and as Interim City Clerk stated, our community standards are towards much more openness and public input than most other places. What is wrong with that?


  1. Councilor Karsky’s comments yesterday told me that he is not very “politically astute”. Dissuading public opinion in the middle of a campaign for the Northwest seat doesn’t seem like a very smart move! I hope that his constituents are listening to him………because he really doesn’t want to hear from you!!!!!

    I was at the meeting. I got the impression that he was trying to impress his “boss”, Evan Nolte, head of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce (who BTW was also in the room)!!!!!!

    To anyone who plans on giving “PUBLIC INPUT” on the issue of public input beware of that spreadsheet that City Clerk Sue Roust presented yesterday………. I can guarantee you that there will be Councilors who will use it to try to stop public input altogether or to alter the way in which input is currently given.

    And, BTW, that spreadsheet is now a public document……….

    It was not available to the public (on paper) at the meeting yesterday and it is not available on SIRE.


  2. It's important to state that there are those who give public input that express very little respect for the council or the Mayor. That is in my opinion the largest factor that is pushing this change. The second factor is the Mayor's interactions with the public. If he ignored them they wouldn't push him so hard. For some reason he can't. This is a rule that will hurt the entire community and it's really because of 3 or 4 people.

  3. The only Mayor who could effectively control council meetings was Mayor Hansen. Public got their five minutes and he moved them on. He didn't interact with them, he let them have their allotted time and moved on. Need him back in the Mayors chair.

  4. Back in the Hanson years it was also at the end of the agenda...Munson moved it to the begining of the meeting.