Stafford City Council discuss procedure changes on time limit for future public hearings
By Karen Daniels
In light of recent events, namely the public hearing held at the Stafford Civic Center on May 21st, Stafford City Council is now considering imposing a time limit for future public hearings. Currently there is no time limit, and as you may recall, that meeting for the approval of a Specific Use Permit requested by Carson Companies to build light industrial at the entrance of the Promenade subdivision ended at 2 a.m.; the remainder of the meeting concluded at 3:00am; and some city staffers did not go home until 4:00 a.m.
At the June 18, council meeting, Councilman Robert Sorbet placed the consideration of a procedure change on the agenda as a “chance to improve” future public hearings. He is suggesting a 7 minute time limit for speakers. Councilman Sorbet said he is “not trying to stifle debate” and suggested that if the speaker has more to say, he or she can simply get back in line, but he wants to provide everyone else a chance to speak.
Mayor Scarcella explained that per year the city has approximately 25/30 public hearings (though they allow community members to speak on agenda items that are not listed as public hearings as well). He suggested that “when it becomes obvious that it will be a big turnout, they could announce a 7 minute rule.” Councilman Sorbet stated that he “wants the rule because it establishes fairness.” Councilman Willis is not in favor of a time limit and called the May 21 meeting an “anomaly” that was run on “emotions with incorrect facts.” Councilman Mathew saw both sides of the discussion. He is for a 7 minute time limit, but suggested that it also apply to Council. The Mayor does not want restrictions on Council and recommended that instead of taking a vote that night, they take more time to reflect on the issue.
Other surrounding cities such as Houston, Sugar Land, and Katy, all impose a 3 minute time limit. If citizens in these cities can have their thoughts and concerns organized in this time frame, surely the citizens of Stafford, with more than double the allotted time, can do the same. Having said that, Stafford likes the fact that they do not limit the public and wish to encourage more citizens to attend these meetings.
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