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Posted on Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Rules changes would limit speaking times for public and council members in Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor City Council is considering changes to its rules to limit speaking times at council meetings, while adding new opportunities for public comment at work sessions.

The rules changes — which would reduce speaking times for both council members and members of the public — are on the council's agenda for Monday, July 1.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. on the second floor of city hall.


Members of the Ann Arbor City Council at a meeting in May. The council's deliberations have lasted past midnight into the early morning hours on a number of occasions in recent months.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Under the current rules, up to 10 speakers are allowed to address council for up to three minutes each during the reserved public comment time at the start of council meetings.

The proposed changes would reduce speaking turns to two minutes, and speakers would not be able to reserve a slot if they already spoke at the start of the last council meeting.

The 10-slot limit for public comment at the start of council meetings would remain, with two spaces reserved for non-agenda items and eight reserved for agenda items.

In addition to the reserved time at the start of council meetings, there still would be other opportunities to speak during public hearings and during the general public comment period at the end of meetings. However, the time limits then also would be reduced from three to two minutes.

Council member speaking times also would be reduced. Under the current rules, council members are allowed to speak up to two times per agenda item — five minutes the first time, and three minutes the second time. That's proposed to drop to three minutes and two minutes, respectively.

It's expected that council members still could ask as many questions of city staff as they needed to clarify an issue during deliberations.

In addition to regular council meetings, the council sometimes holds informal work sessions where it discusses issues at length but does not vote on anything.

Public comment hasn't been allowed at those sessions in the past, but the proposed rules changes would add a time for that.

A new public comment period at the end of council work sessions would have to begin no later than 8:45 p.m., per the proposed rules changes.

The rules changes are being brought forward by the members of the Council Rules Committee — Sabra Briere, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Stephen Kunselman and Christopher Taylor. Briere said the changes were recommended by Michigan Municipal League representatives.

Mayor Hieftje said he's not wedded to the proposed reduction in speaking times for members of the public, but he said council meetings have gotten longer. The council's deliberations have lasted past midnight into the early morning hours on a number of occasions in recent months.

"I'm pretty flexible," Hieftje said. "I'm not wedded at all to the two minutes versus three minutes, but we — members of the rules committee — wanted to get that out for the full council to discuss. Either way, I just want to hear people's views on that."

Hieftje said he does think limiting council member speaking times makes sense, because the rules always can be suspended if council members think an issue deserves more discussion. He also thinks it makes sense to not allow people to reserve time to speak two meetings in a row.

"We hear from people occasionally, the person who is not a regular at council — they will call the clerk's office shortly after 8 o'clock and find out all the slots are gone," he said. "So we would like to make it easier for the regular citizen who is not at every council meeting to have access."

The changes in rules also include a new paragraph on conduct, stating council members cannot use personal mobile devices to answer phone calls or send electronic communications, including text messages, while seated at the council table. Council members who have a need to attend to personal business would have to step away from the council table to do so.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 2:37 a.m.

Yeah, democracy is just too time consuming these days.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

I am in 100% agreement with pjn, when he/she says, "A two minute limit for public comments is insufficient for those presenting reasoned viewpoints with supporting detail." And as for the suggestion that, "a loud horn or buzzer... goes off when a speaker's time has expired," and, "when the buzzer goes off, the speaker's microphone shall be muted automatically," ... that is absurd! The goal is to have a reasonable limit placed on speakers' comments. The goal is not to worship the Almighty Stopwatch God. I have been in that type of situation a couple of times. In one case I was abruptly cut off. In the other, the moderator raised her hand to indicate that my allotted time was up, and that I should wrap it up ASAP, which I then did. So on that second occasion, I ended up speaking for three minutes and fifteen seconds, maybe. Big deal –– if everyone ran over their time the way I did, it would add less than three minutes to the total meeting time. The ultimate goal, is, after all, full communication and community input. As for those who show up at every single meeting? Sure, making them take one week off between comments would not be unreasonable, and that would open up the mic to a more non-zealot demographic. But putting a two-minute limit on all citizen comments, just to knock a measly ten minutes off of the meeting? No.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 1:08 a.m.

Why not start earlier. Get more time slots. Allow a Group of residents to designate a spokesperson in order to get more time to present a cohesive comment. Such as "the North Side Flooding Victims ask for City help after explaining recent and past flood problems". Allow more time if a formal (as in 'powerpoint') presentation is/can be used by a call to the public person.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 11:25 p.m.

I would likie to see a two minute limit set - on the windy city council members rather than the participating public. Ultimately what the people say far outweighs everything their representaives think they say. For those oh so enamoured by representative mechanics more so than individual voices, in some democracies, like Egypt and Brazil the voters must visibly update their ballot between elections for some strange reason. Maybe their corrupted leaders have gone to far astray since the election. And ultimately the voters always have the final word if history is any measure of the rule. Artfully spinning the importance of outsider-interest issue (like art or trains or DDA monstrosities) from one mouth corner whilst pandering to the local voters for re-election out the other is a waste of city business time alright and should oughta be whacked short for sure. If council is so worried about late night sessions then cut out desert with those special interests trough feeders and start earlier at 6pm. Those ten slots should be on any topic. Not just what the Mayor wants to focus the public's attention towards. The only limitation on the public should be on those repeat speakers as there must be an opportunity for all residents to speak at least once in their lifetimes. Perhaps an immediate followup or Tuesday night counterpoint public session could be broadcast on CTN for the public to discuss "their" more complex issues. Maybe the CTN could add an internet thumbs up/down interaction by the viewing public to display to their reps what their true opinion is about the direction of discussion - real time. Plebiscite rule works in a free market democracy.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 4:05 a.m.

Are we talking about birthdays, paying city taxes, or voting? Do we teach that? Every year? Maybe two. Or four perhaps. I guess we missed the part about inbetween-election electorate desires (ie. Egypt and Brazil). Did our Police Chief just tell the Mayor he's got 48 hours (less than a year) to make the voters happy as did the military in Egypt? How about public voting on every agenda item instead? If the voter is always correct at the ballot box, then what difference could there possibly be if the vote were held once per year or once per week? If you truly believe in the concept of a "representative" democracy then you must agree that the politician is representing his/her constituants. If not then then who? If so, then what does it matter who actually votes on the issues? The people or their "representative"? And thus why not the public? Too much oversight? Too tight a public leash? Because the broken system might actually get fixed? It is worth a try.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

Saline Teacher - .... and so few show up to speak!


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 12:53 a.m.

The people get their say every year at the ballot box.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:08 p.m.

I am for this as long as they have a loud horn or buzzer that goes off when a speaker's time has expired. The sound should be just as loud and as long for both a member of the public and a member of council.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 6:58 p.m.

Sadly, yes


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 11:42 p.m.

might as well get out the huge hook used on the gong show as well.... (are we dating ourselves here?)


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 10:22 p.m.

Or we could install a giant gong and hire Chuck Barris.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:44 p.m.

Hey, that might actually make some of these seven-hour meetings fun to sit through!


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:40 p.m.

How about some of those giant "X"s like on America's Got Talent?


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:25 p.m.

Oh yeah... when the buzzer goes off, the speaker's microphone shall be muted automatically.

Retiree Newcomer

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

These rules changes make sense. As this article states, it would not reduce or restrict public comment during specific public hearings. Council should also enact a rule on length of meetings. Meetings should end at a reasonable hour. No decision should be made after 11pm. The rule should be waived, in order to continue a meeting later, only by a two-thirds vote to suspend the rule. If this requires more recessed meetings, so be it. Such a rule would be in the public interest. Meeting until the wee hours is not fair to residents, including those who serve on the Council and those who staff council meetings.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

The proposed rules would be teetering on the edge of not permissible under the Open Meetings Act. But if the rules sincerely need to be revised for practical reasons (and not to stifle dissenters or anyone else), then it's probably okay. Council members use personal mobile devices during meetings now?

Barbara Clarke

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:11 p.m.

Having watched the Council meetings recently, it seems that one particular gentleman has spoken to a number of issues, sometimes exceeding the time limit, and in general repeats himself quite a bit.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 11:38 a.m.

People like this gentleman, and the ability to tolerate his (often long-winded) passion for social issues, is what makes this a great town.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 5:18 a.m.

Are you referring to the mayor? Perhaps he could limit his comments and allow those who wish to represent the people who elected them speak more freely and without needless criticism.


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 2:42 a.m.

If Mr Partridge habitually talks more than the allocated time per person, the person running the meetings needs to strike the gavel or do whatever is necessary to stop him from talking, even if it means removing him from the room. Each speaker deserves his or her allocated time and if there are speakers who run over, then at the end of the allocated time, that person needs to stop talking, even if it's mid-sentence, or be asked to leave. Rules needs to be followed to give all speakers a chance to be heard. If rules don't apply to all speakers, then there is little point in having time limits.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 11:41 p.m.

If you wish to make a rule change, make one that says an individual who habitually wastes meeting times just to hear his own voice or to disrupt proceedings can openly be censured and prohibited from continuing to act in a way that is detriimental to council meetings, if one is found to be doing no good, but just speaking because they CAN. Not sure how one would go about doing that, but I think making a broad change limiting criticism or comment really amounts to an attempt to muzzle the citizenry more than anything else.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:42 p.m.

That's Tom Partridge. He signs up to speak at the start of every Council meeting and often will speak on just about every public hearing and then again at the end of the meeting. He runs down the clock each time. These changes might affect him more than anybody.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

A two minute limit for public comments is insufficient for those presenting reasoned viewpoints with supporting detail. Council has a responsibility to listen to all citizens; restricting comments makes council less likely to hear and understand different viewpoints. Limiting council member's speaking times is equally unfortunate, and may mean more decisions are made behind the scene without the transparency required by a democracy. This is a bad proposal made in the name of efficiency. If council members find it too challenging to listen to their constituents or their colleagues they can resign and allow citizens with longer attention spans to serve the city.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 11:27 p.m.

salineteacher, isn't the point of speaking before council not just to communicae to council, but to communicate to fellow citizens who might be at council or who might hear of what was spoken at council so that they might have a chance to consider what is talked about? I do not attend council meetings, but I know a couple of people who are very involved. I think that these limitations amount to a bit of silencing people's voices by restricting their ability to present a strong argument. It sure smells like a muzzle to me, IMO.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:59 p.m.

Council certainly should listen to citizens, and the Open Meetings Act requires a public comment period. However, it would be rather troubling if council members were overly influenced by comments moments before voting. You'll probably be far more effective discussing your concerns personally with councilmembers LONG BEFORE any actual vote.


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

The open meetings act says that the public body can have reasonable rules for public comments but this is beginning to get into the realm of unreasonable. I can say from personal experience that it is difficult to say something of substance in three minutes, so limiting it to two minutes is unreasonable. As far as text messaging during meetings, the courts have found that it was a violation of the open meetings act for members to be carrying on deliberations by text message. If this is a new rule, it is about time.

Paula Gardner

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:01 p.m.

I think the change in the council members' speaking time is interesting. There's an element of forcing some communication efficiency into the process. I suspect residents would still feel well-represented with each elected official speaking for 3 minutes less on each agenda item since they'd still be eligible to talk for 5 minutes.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

There's another possible rule that might be worth some discussion among City Council members, and it's a rule already followed by the school board — under new board policy, Ann Arbor Public Schools trustees must keep their meetings to five hours total, requiring them to finish before midnight. That doesn't mean that discussions can't continue past midnight if there's support for suspending the rules. If you recall during the school board's recent budget deliberations, President Deb Mexicotte moved four different times to extend the meeting — twice by a half-hour and twice by 15 minutes. Speaking times aside, it's a fair question whether it's good public process for a public body to be deliberating and making decisions on important issues at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. when most citizens are asleep and members of that public body are not in the best frame of mind. What do you guys think?


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 11:37 p.m.

So you are saying that councilmembers mental faculties deteriorate rapidly because most other citizens are asleep? Many people I know that work long hours and late hours (including surgeons and nurses) don't have such reservations about their abilities. This to me is not a solid argument. Council members may not LIKE having to work those late hours, but it shouldn't impair them to the point where they cannot make a logical decision, unless they would rather vote a certain way contrary to the citizen's/city's interests just to get to bed. In which case, they are in the wrong business.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 7:36 p.m.

I'd like to comment on the comment issue but I'm afraid i have no comment. ...unless this constitutes a comment in which case I retract the first part of the comment that wasn't.

John of Saline

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

If no one listens to a comment, is it a comment? Does the act of listening change the comment?

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 7:15 p.m.

There should be more time to speak at Council meetings, not less. If meetings are lasting longer, it's a good thing, after years of Councils that were little more than rubber stamps. Open and transparent discussion at meetings is in marked contrast to the past, when member traded junior high school level emails that made fun of other members and insulted voters. If the price we have to pay for democracy is for meetings to run past midnight, so be it. But don't pretend it has anything to do with citizens speaking for three minutes instead of two.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 5:23 p.m.

@Alan Goldsmith: I completely agree! Having spoken in front of Ann Arbor City Council on several occasions, I find the three minute limit insufficient to complete discussing more than one complex insight. Citizen engagement is always good for democracy, if uncomfortable for our city leaders!


Tue, Jul 2, 2013 : 12:11 a.m.

Does Saline Teacher really believe that members of council should walk into a session with their minds made up and completely closed to all rational arguments? Unfortunately, most of the time they do ...


Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Meetings are to conduct the city's business in public, they're not an open forum. It would actually be rather troubling if council members were overly influenced by comments a moments before an actual vote.

Steve Hendel

Mon, Jul 1, 2013 : 8:51 p.m.

No! When meetings go past midnight, the speeches tend to be repetitive and the reasoning fuzzy. Since when did democracy = no limits at all?