City of Branson to vote on new public comment rules

A bill which will be introduced Monday June 11 will limit the amount of time public speakers can openly address alderman without interruption. The same bill increases aldermen’s ability to engage residents who address aldermen with public comment during city council meetings. Bill 1241 will be the only new item which will be voted on during Branson’s next aldermen meeting.

Under the current rules, members of the public can address aldermen for 10 minutes. After the 10 minute time limit has expired, citizens aren’t allowed to respond nor are aldermen able to ask the speaker questions. If aldermen choose to engage the citizen further, they’ll have the ability to ask questions and extend the speakers time with an additional five minutes.

Alderwoman Sandra Williams spoke strongly against the idea. “I don’t want to do anything that the public will perceive as limiting their ability to communicate with city hall.” A more open government was a promise Williams delivered on the campaign trail. Anything perception contradicting that promise was something Williams said she would vote against.

Alderman Bob McDowell has a different perspective. McDowell sees the opportunity for constructive dialogue as a positive move towards a more open government. He sees the board’s inability to ask questions a hindrance to effective governance.

During Monday’s planning session, the board of alderman discussed ways they could increase communication with the public. One idea presented involved allowing citizens to write questions on a note card and placing them anonymously in a box. The public polling proposal is another way in which Branson’s board is reaching out and asking for community input. Alderman Jack Purvis reminded that board that citizens had an open line to aldermen and that aldermen meetings weren’t the only way for residents to interact with their local government.

Right now, anyone who wants has ten minutes to speak. Debate over changing that ability promises to be lively. After two more alderman sessions, having 15 minutes of fame with city council could take three meetings.