Earlier this week, the Borough of Conshohocken released a set of guidelines for public comment during meetings of the borough council. The release of these guidelines follows an incident during a February 2nd meeting when a resident, Joe Collins, whose property was being considered for eminent domain was denied the opportunity to speak prior to a vote by the borough council on whether to advertise an ordinance tied to the eminent domain.
When denied the opportunity to speak prior to the vote, Collins pointed out that the agenda for the meeting stated that there would be an opportunity to speak prior to any vote.
MoreThantheCurve.com sought input from Pennsylvania’s Office of Public Records on whether this denial violated the Sunshine Act, which governs transparency issues involving public meetings and documents. A representative of the office did not believe it was a violation. You can read more detail about this here.
You can watch the incident below.
The regulations as posted by the borough on February 28th are as follows (they are pretty standard):
- If able, individuals must go up to the podium to address Borough Council. Unless necessary to provide a reasonable accommodation, comment will not be allowed from the audience sitting area.
- Individuals must state their name and address for the record prior to making their comment. Please note that Public Comment is restricted to residents and/or taxpayers of the Borough of Conshohocken.
- Public Comment is limited to a maximum of 2 minutes per individual (note that individuals may not give their time to other people).
- Only one public comment per individual per topic will be permitted.
- The public comment period is a time for Borough Council to receive information and input from residents and taxpayers of the Borough. Borough Council will listen to each person speaking as comment is given. In order to ensure that the public comment period of the agenda is orderly and all residents and taxpayers of the Borough have a fair opportunity to provide comment on those items important to them, the public comment period is not an appropriate time for a question-and-answer session. Where appropriate and applicable, answers to questions raised during the public comment period will be provided at a later meeting or, where appropriate, through follow-up with the individual commenter.
- Similarly, Borough Council does not call on the Borough’s staff and professionals to provide public answers during the meeting. The issues handled by the Borough’s staff and professionals are often complex, and in order to make sure that the information being disseminated to the public is accurate, responses to questions posed during a public meeting will, where applicable and appropriate, be provided by staff at a later date—during a public meeting, or individually to the commenter, as appropriate under the circumstances.
- Administrative staff will ensure that public comment is taken on record for Borough Council to utilize the feedback during their decision-making process, as applicable.
- During Work Session Meetings, public comment will be taken at the end of the meeting on agenda and general business items.
- During Voting Sessions, there will be a public comment section at the beginning of the meeting prior to any votes being taken on agenda items. Any comments on specific business items on the agenda should be made at this time. Note that Public Comment will not be taken after each individual agenda item. Therefore, please utilize the public comment section at the beginning of the agenda should you want Council to consider your comment prior to a vote being taken. There will also be a public comment section at the end of the agenda for all other business matters.
- While the public does have the right to make critical and harsh remarks, it is the Borough’s expectation that everyone will do so in a respectful and courteous manner. Members of the public do not have the right to disrupt meetings. In cases of serious disruption, Borough Council will adjourn the meeting, or take such other action to resolve the disruption, as appropriate under the circumstances.
We reached out to Collins and asked if anyone from the borough had apologized to him on how he was treated during the February 2nd meeting. He shared that no one had apologized.
On March 1st we email each member of the borough council and the mayor asked if they had apologized, as a group or personally, to Collins for how he was treated during the meeting and for not following the public comment procedures as stated in the agenda for that meeting.
We did not receive a reply.