Daily Archives: Sept. 26, 2007

The long saga of writing your own rules

More than a year after the city council began reviewing and rewriting the rules that govern its meetings, the tires are still spinning.

No one is quite sure how to deal with the public comment portion of the meetings, which devote up to 25 minutes (five minutes per person) to anyone who signs up two weeks ahead of time to address the council on their topic of choice. (“Choice” is relative here. The council doesn’t allow people to talk about pending lawsuits.) The council, which has frequently brought up off-agenda items (meaning topics it didn’t include on the public agenda), is considering barring folks from straying from their stated topic and from allowing a substitute speaker. That means if John Doe wants to talk to the council during the meeting and gets sick, his wife, brother or son couldn’t take his place and deliver the public message. People only can comment once every four meetings, so the wait for a second chance can be a month or longer.

This all stems from a showdown last year when African-American community leaders, including prominent pastors and a state senator, addressed the city council in support of Sarah’s Ice Cream and Bakery, a minority-owned business facing contract difficulties at the city-owned Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. One speaker was listed, but several people lined up in his place. Several council members criticized then-Mayor Carlos Mayans for not taking control of the situation.

“It turned into a real dog and pony show,” council member Sue Schlapp said this week during a council workshop.

The council hasn’t made any moves yet, instead appointing members Jeff Longwell and Jim Skelton to look into it and make recommendations. What is clear is that the public comments are likely to change.

“Unfortunately, there are some who want to take advantage of it,” City Manager George Kolb said.