The Frankford Town Council voted Monday night to amend the town’s rules of procedure relating to public participation.
The changes require citizens to ask permission of the council president before speaking at a meeting, and then mandate that the citizen gives his or her full name and address for the record when speaking. Citizens then have up to three minutes to voice their opinions or pose their questions, and that conversation must be addressed to the entire council — not any one council member.
Over the past few years, we have also seen changes in other towns regarding rules of participation for citizens during municipal meetings. The changes have stemmed from citizens taking what is deemed to be too much time to state their cases, as well as an overall disruption to the flow of council meetings with interruptions and, in some cases, outbursts from overenthusiastic citizens.
We understand the need for town councils to get their meetings back under control. There is often a lot of information to get through during meetings and, in some instances, there were hearings and other previous meetings that called for public participation on a particular issue, but citizens who didn’t participate in that process want to get their voices heard, even if it’s during the vote of an issue when public input is no longer accepted.
We get the need for change. We do. And we support it.
But something is being lost with the town councils tightening up their rules and procedures. Maybe it’s the small-town charm that came with former Millville Mayor Gary Willey holding conversations with citizens from the dais during meetings, or the way that council would buzz through a budget approval meeting in about 10 minutes and spend the rest of the time just listening to concerns of the residents.
Or maybe it’s the somewhat-organized mayhem that would generate from the audience during controversial Ocean View Town Council meetings in years past that’s missing. Trust us, those weren’t so charming.
Whatever the case, the old days of getting approval for work on your home in three minutes are gone and it takes a little more work for a citizen to address town councils anymore if his or her streetlight is always down or a nearby noisy construction project is starting too early in the morning.
Again, we don’t necessarily disagree with the steps that various councils have taken to make their meetings more efficient. Not at all.
There’s just a small slice of “charming small-town living” that seems to be heading out the door with the changes.