The Gallatin Planning Commission is considering reducing the amount of time the public would be allowed speak during its meetings, however officials note that additional time could be given if deemed necessary.
The proposed change, if approved, would limit public comments to two minutes and would also require speakers to sign up before each meeting if they wanted to address commissioners.
Historically, members of the public have been given up to five minutes to speak and have not been required to sign up beforehand – the same rules used by the Gallatin City Council during its meetings.
“What it controls is when we’ve done public comment on contentious items (and we’ve had) more and more people at the last minute deciding to get up and talk and essentially say the same thing that we’ve already heard,” Gallatin Planning Commission Vice Chairman Matt Harris said about the proposed changes during a meeting on Sept. 27.
The new rules are included in a proposed revision to the commission’s bylaws, which have been drafted and recommended for approval by the city’s planning department.
Public comments, which are only allowed during the planning commission’s voting meetings at the end of each month, are not addressed in the group’s current bylaws that were unanimously approved in 2010.
“It appears that the time limit on speakers/presenters is a new proposal with the revised by-laws and that there is currently no specified limit except at the discretion of the commission,” City Planner Bill McCord wrote in an email to the Gallatin News in response to the proposed changes on Sept. 29.
According to Assistant City Planner Josh King, the two-minute limit for speakers is the minimum amount of time required by state law for public comments.
While discussing the proposed changes last month, both Harris and Gallatin Planning Commission Chairman John Puryear noted that commissioners would still have the “flexibility” to allow the public to speak for longer than two minutes if needed.
“If people come in after the (meeting has started), then you all have the power to suspend your rules and still allow them to speak,” staff attorney Leticia Alexander also said during the meeting.
Commissioners deferred a vote on the proposed new bylaws last week in order to give officials more time to research state law regarding the administrative removal of items from an agenda. While a time was not specified on when the item could come back up for a vote, it could take place as early as Oct. 25.
In June, planning commissioners resumed streaming both their monthly work sessions and voting meetings online through the Zoom video conference program in an effort to increase public engagement. However, anyone wishing to speak during the meeting must attend in person.
Gallatin Planning Commission meetings are typically held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at city hall and start at 5 p.m.