Thursday, July 16, 2020

Closed Mic in Richardson

Richardson City Council meetings used to feature a "Visitors" section of the agenda. Members of the public were allowed to address the City Council on any topic. Each visitor was given five minutes at an "open mic." The City Council seems to have used COVID-19 as an excuse to do away with the "open mic" portion of meetings.

The council still gathers in person most Monday nights. Meetings have been moved from the council chambers to a conference room where council members can spread out, but meetings go on pretty much as before. Staff still speaks to the council. Council members still speak to each other. No one wears a face mask. There is one significant difference, however, which may not be obvious to a casual observer. Even though members of the public are allowed into the room, members of the public are no longer allowed to address the council. Instead of being allowed to speak at a microphone, they are asked to submit comment cards.

What happens to these comment cards? They aren't read aloud. They aren't included in the minutes. At most there is brief noting of your name and the subject of your comment. The City Manager says copies are made and distributed to council members. Whether council members read them later is anybody's guess. In the olden days (aka February), there was never any public feedback given on "open mic" comments, but at least you could force council members to sit there while you made your comment. And the rest of the public at large could hear your inputs, too. Under the new system, that's gone. You might as well send a post card, like in the really olden days. Maybe council members don't consider that a bug with the new system, but a feature. If the people's representatives wanted to suppress public input at council meetings, COVID-19 offered them a way. Like they say, you never want to let a crisis go to waste. It provides the opportunity to do things that were not possible to do before.

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