Happens (almost) every time.
After getting pilloried a month before for what critics called a heavy-handed approach to enforcing rules on public comment, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol on July 16 loosened her grip on the gavel just a bit.
Cristol acknowledged that she was being a little more loose in her interpretation of rules for the July board meeting than she had been in June, when she shut down comment on the government’s Missing Middle housing proposal after just two speakers at the public-comment period.
County Board rules for the public-comment period allow for only one speaker per topic on items not scheduled for public hearings (which have their own comment periods later in the meeting). Board members over time have allowed, on topics of controversy, for one speaker on each side of the issue.
Often, public-comment speakers get around the prohibition on multiple speakers on a single topic through creativity, often through addressing issues tangential to the main topic at home. Often, County Board members, playing the role of benign despot, will allow them to continue.
Last month, however, one speaker attempted to discuss the impact on trees from the Missing Middle proposal, and Cristol cut her down, giving no leeway.
“If we turn every County Board public-comment session into a de-facto hearing about the same issue, we’re not going to get to items on our regular agenda,” she said then.
It was kinder, gentler Cristol – who is pretty kind and gentle to begin with – at the July 16 meeting, allowing a number of speakers to discuss various aspects of the housing proposal without cutting them off.
Her about-face follows what oldtimers will recognize as the historic pattern. Some County Board chairs through the years have attempted to wield a forceful gavel, only to ultimately give in when it proves logistically easier to let people have their say.
As for the July 16 meeting, there were fewer than a half-dozen speakers who touched on any aspect of the Missing Middle policy. Others took on matters ranging from bicycle lanes and walkability on Langston Boulevard to LGBTQ rights and participation at county advisory-commission meetings.
Board members briefly decamped from the room during the public-comment period during a protest by immigrants-rights activists.