Measure to end broadcast of comments rejected

The City Council last night rejected an ordinance that would have ended the broadcast of the final public comment segment of its meetings.

After about 15 minutes of discussion and an attempt to table the measure, the governing body voted down the ordinance almost unanimously, by an 8-0-1 vote. Only Councilman At-large James Baker abstained, preferring that the measure be tabled. All nine members, as well as Mayor Samson Steinman, are Democrats.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Bresenhan first moved to table the ordinance, a move seconded by 2nd Ward Councilman Michael Cox, before withdrawing the motion. Bresenhan suggested implementing a 15-second delay on the live broadcasts or finding another way to address a public speaker who may use off-color language during the public comment period. The ordinance was introduced last month after some questionable language was used by a speaker during the September City Council meeting. Mayor Samson Steinman was not in attendance at last night’s meeting.

“I’m not sure how valid the argument is so far that people’s rights are being abrogated,” Baker said, since comments still would be recorded. City Attorney Frank Regan clarified that the public comment portion would not be recorded as part of the broadcast but an audio recording would still be made as part of the proposed changes in Ordinance 48-13.

Sixth Ward Councilman Raymond Giacobbe, Jr. suggested tabling the legislation because of the indecisiveness and confusion but the ordinance eventually was called for a vote.

“I feel strongly that the public has a right to speak and be heard,” said Fifth Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier. Bresenhan agreed, saying that public meetings are an open forum where City Council members have a “chance to hear what we’re doing right and wrong — hopefully more right than wrong — it’s part of democracy.”

Fourth Ward Councilman David Brown, who serves as City Council president, implored speakers to respect each other when making comments. “No one is coming here to be harassed. I don’t want you to be doing to City Council what you wouldn’t want done to you,” he said.

Three residents in attendance spoke against the ordinance. Colin Gittens of Hamilton Street said the governing body isn’t protecting anything under the proposal — given what can be seen and heard in the media — and the public is better served by having everything in the public record. Scott Caffee of West Scott Avenue, a frequent critic of the council, implored the City Council, new members in particular, to vote against the measure.