To make their voices heard before the Fayetteville City Council, residents must now sign up to speak at the council’s monthly public forums by 5 p.m. the day of the meeting.
Previously, residents could sign up until the beginning of the meetings, which usually start at 7 p.m. The City Council holds public forums monthly during its meetings on the second Monday of each month.
The City Council approved the change Monday by a vote of 5-4; council members Derrick Thompson, D.J. Hare, Kathy Jensen, Brenda McNair and Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins voted for the change. Council members Mario Benavente, Shakeyla Ingram, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Deno Hondros voted against it.
Mayor Mitch Colvin was not present at Monday’s meeting because of a family emergency.
Jensen, whose committee spearheaded the change, argued that the new sign-up process is more efficient and allows city officials to better assist residents who wish to speak.
“If the person has a question, we can make sure that we take care of it,” Jensen said.
Hare pointed out that residents can still sign up by email or phone if they can’t do so in person by 5 p.m.
Benavente said he is concerned the new policy could exclude people who prefer the in-person sign-up.
“Some people don’t go online, and some people just would rather be here and hear it themselves or take some of the agendas that are printed out for them in person,” Benavente said.
“Those folks who are not on the computer all the time may not be tech savvy, who still want to participate in the public forum,” Benavente continued. “Should they arrive during the day of the meeting where we have public forums, (they should) have a way to sign up. I think eliminating that without any real evidence of harm in the way that we currently do things, it’s just a sort of unnecessary restriction on people’s ability to participate in the public forum.”
The deadline to sign up for public hearings, as opposed to public forums, will not change. State law requires a public hearing for certain municipal policy changes such as the term extension proposal debated by the City Council weeks prior. The deadline to sign up for those hearings will still be until the start of the meeting. Council member Ingram said the difference in policies could cause confusion.
“It doesn’t make sense to have two different times to be able to sign up for anything,” Ingram said.
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.