The Gainesville City Commission voted 5-1 Thursday to alter how it conducts its meetings, including moving the commission meeting start time to 10 a.m.
The commission rules are set by resolution, meaning the changes remain preliminary. They will have come back to the commission as a resolution before they get a final vote.
As part of its regular General Policy Committee meeting, Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos submitted a list of 17 potential changes to the rules that govern the commission’s meetings.
“[I am] trying to find ways to make sure our meetings are efficiently run and the public business gets done,” Hayes-Santos told fellow commissioners.
Some of the 17 items found broad support among the commissioners, including requiring people to fill out speaker cards if they wish to speak in person at meetings and offering language translation services for people who register in advance.
Other items that found support among the majority of the commission included restricting people from using public comment periods to advocate for candidates running for elected offices and starting discussion of agenda items with public comments versus saving public comment to the end.
“If we have public comment on those [items] first, we get to hear them and hear what our neighbors have to say prior to us making a motion,” Commissioner Reina Saco said. “Moving public comment to the front of an item would make the neighbors feel more heard and be a benefit to us in that we see a variety of opinions beyond our own before discussing it.”
Moving the meeting start time from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m. was supported by most of the commissioners. Hayes-Santos said the move was intended to keep the meeting from running late into the evenings, something he said would help both staff and commissioners.
“I have seen staff just sit here until 1 in the morning and that’s not fair to them,” Saco said. “That’s not fair to their families. No one should be here until 1 in the morning.”
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker opposed moving the start time up because of concerns that it would restrict the people who are willing to run for office and serve on the city council.
“I have a job aside from this one,” Duncan-Walker said. “I am fortunate enough to have a little flexibility because it’s a family business. I want to be cognizant of [people who don’t have flexibility]. The 1 p.m. meeting gives the person an opportunity to go to work first.”
Additional changes included combining votes on the consent agenda and the adoption of the regular agenda into one item, dropping public comment segments from procedural and administrative votes, and restricting public comment during workshops and special sessions to the items on those agendas.
A couple of the changes were aimed at making public comments more relevant and less divisive. One change included spelling out that public comment must focus on the items being heard, while another added additional rules of decorum that specify commission and public comments shouldn’t include vulgar language or gestures and shouldn’t include “discourteous, disrespectful or disparaging conduct.”
Before the commission voted on the rules changes, Hayes-Santos removed five items from consideration because of opposition from multiple commissioners.
These items included proposals to automatically shut off microphones after three minutes, limit discussion on some items to two minutes per speaker, and set aside a special, untelevised public comment period.
A proposal to move away from taking live telephone calls from the public during commission meetings also failed to garner support. Allowing live public comments via telephone costs the city an estimated $100,000 annually, city officials said.
Commissioner David Arreola was one who supported keeping live telephone participation.
“It allows for people to participate in the meetings without having to rely on the whims of getting around the city,” he said. “The cost is what it is. I think the added engagement is worth it.”
A sixth item, concerning ex parte discussions, was sent to the city attorney’s office to gather more information.
The remaining 11 changes proposed by Hayes-Santos passed 5-1 with Duncan-Walker voting in opposition.
“I am not interested in adopting anything that limits the community’s ability to access us or meetings in any way or to make public comments,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.