OCEAN CITY – Following lengthy Mayor and City Council meetings due to drawn-out public comments, Ocean City elected officials agreed this week to put a time limit on ordinance reading comments, as is done with other public comment periods.
Council Secretary Mary Knight, who led last week’s regular session due to the absence of Council President Lloyd Martin, asked for the council to consider at this week’s meeting restricting public comments during ordinance readings to three minutes.
“I take responsibility for last Monday night’s meeting when we had public comments during the ordinances because I had the gavel. In thinking about it, at times, it was extremely unproductive, tedious for the audience and I have to admit it got tedious for the council members,” she said.
Last Monday’s regular session lasted nearly four hours and included several ordinances regarding the land swap between the Town of Ocean City and Ocean City Development Corporation and the city’s purchase of property to develop a model block in the downtown for private development as well as create a space to construct a new Ocean City Beach Patrol headquarters. Several members of the public returned to the podium on multiple occasions debating the items for 20 minutes each in some cases.
According to Knight, within Roberts Rules of Order, there is a rule of “calling the question” that allows for a motion by a council member to end debate on any debatable or amendable motion and bring that motion to an immediate vote.
“I do not recommend that at all because it is unfair and everybody should be heard but when it comes to filibustering I don’t think that is fair either,” said Knight, suggesting limiting public comments during ordinance readings. “I think it would result in a much more productive manner. I felt last week there was not a lot of respect in the council chamber and there should be for each other’s opinions.”
Councilman Doug Cymek agreed, saying, “It is not fair to the other people who want to speak. It is not fair to the people watching at home, and I ask for some type of mechanism, or someone to be responsible in timing the people, and give the speaker a fair warning … approaching their end so that they can wrap up their conversation.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas asserted the policy is already in place.
“We have a person with a gavel in their hand,” she said. “The president of the council has that control.”
Knight attempted to stop members of the public last week, but she said she was ignored.
“We don’t have a policy during those comments,” she said. “During ordinances, we tend to let folks talk as long as they want and I would respectively like to see that set to three minutes. When they are commenting about an ordinance, it is not a question-and-answer period … it is not a tutorial.”
The town has a policy in place to allow public comments limited to three minutes prior to work sessions that refer to agenda items only, and a five-minute limit on public comments at the conclusion of regular sessions that can be general.
Martin also agreed with Knight.
“Everybody has a right to speak,” Martin said. “But sometimes someone comes up to speak and says the same thing four or five times, which takes time out of some else’s chance to talk, or some people have the tendency to leave early because they feel they won’t have the opportunity to speak with someone rambling on. I think that five minutes is a good time limit for anybody to speak on any issue … it is five minutes at the end of our regular session, so we will make it five minutes during our ordinance readings as well. That gives you plenty of time to get your point across.”