Lansing City Council approves virtual public comment

Citizens will be able to speak at meetings online starting March 11


THURSDAY, Feb. 29 —Anyone who wishes to engage in public comment at the Lansing City Council and its committee meetings can do so virtually starting March 11.

The Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday granting access through Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“This sets up a process by which members of the public could register to electronically speak to Council and Committee of the Whole by registering through a request with the city clerk no later than four hours before the meeting in a form and manner determined by the city clerk,” Council member Peter Spadafore said.

“There will be no registration period for our general committees, rather just for the two larger meetings,” he added.

Citizens have advocated for the move for years, citing it as paramount to expanding accessibility for those who would like to participate in city government but may be unable to attend in person due to their conflicting schedules, disability status and other circumstances.

Spadafore noted that participants would still have to follow the same rules that in-person speakers would.

“The presiding officer or the clerk could have the ability to mute and remove that participant from continuing that public comment for that particular meeting, if they disrupt,” Spadafore said.

There are some limitations, however. The resolution specifies that these comments can only be made on legislative matters before the consent agenda in formal City Council meetings, and not on city government-related matters, which come at the end.

Additionally, some residents have voiced their opposition to the part of the resolution that states that “a member of the public may send a request to the city cerk no later than four hours prior to the meeting.”

“We came up with this four-hour rule as kind of a way to test the waters to see if that was functional for the City Clerk's Office and our office staff — to make sure that they weren't spending every minute leading up to a Council meeting monitoring that,” Spadafore said.

Although he voted yes on Monday, Council member Brian Jackson has previously been hesitant about restricting virtual comment to only legislative matters, as well as the four-hour registration rule.

“There are some times when people come to a meeting and don’t know they’re going to speak until they hear something, and then it’s too late. If that’s the logic, then these people would not be able to speak unless they knew about it at least four hours prior,” Jackson said during a discussion at the Council’s Dec. 11 meeting.

“I think that discourages participation when we want to make it as easy as possible for people to participate in city government,” he added.

After the vote, Jackson, who chairs the City Operations Committee, clarified that he intends to review the virtual participation process in six months. While he supports the move, he said his concerns with some of the language remain.

“As with any rules, there is an opportunity to revisit these if we decide that they are too stringent or not stringent enough,” Spadafore said. “But this gives us a chance to make good on the promise we made in last year's budget to get that open access for individuals who can't make it down to this building.”

Lansing, city, public comment, virtual, engagement, City Council, Brian Jackson, Peter Spadafore


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