The City of Spring Hill is reconsidering how it takes citizen comments, and decisions could change how public opinion meets governance.
The Municipal Planning Commission is weighing the option of requiring all residents to jot down their names and possibly addresses on a sign-in sheet before addressing the body at meetings. A proposal has not been presented but was discussed a near-future possibility. The recommendation comes from city staff as a possible first step before speaking at meetings.
Citizen comments are the means by which the public gets to influence policy. As in many cities, residents are given the opportunity to address local concerns at public hearings and other meetings held by certain municipal bodies like the Board of Mayor and Alderman or the Planning Commission.
The same method its availed by stakeholders and developers when they weigh in on their own interests as the city deals with them. The method suggested would still permit citizens to fill out the sheet after the meeting had already started so long as the issue about which the individual wishes to speak has not already passed on the meeting on agenda.
Staff has “difficulties at times filling in names or hearing names, and we’ll take those sign-in sheets before the planning commission meeting begins,” according to Calvin Abram, the city’s director of development.
City Attorney Patrick Carter pointed out that Spring Hill’s lack of a sign-in sheet is anomalous as it constitutes common practice in similar municipalities. He added that it would enhance boards’ answerability to the public.
In theory, this would also bring the added benefit of making public hearings a more efficient process by organizing talks and public input. Jonathan Duda, chairman of the Planning Commission, initially voiced concerns about how this would work for a work session due to that not being “a meeting of record” or a public hearing despite it being legitimately open to the public. Ultimately, he too verbalized support for the idea.
No formal proposal for the idea has been fielded by the Commission.