Steamboat City Council looks to extend public comment opportunities

Steamboat Springs City Council plans to change when the public is allowed to weigh in at council meetings and extend what agenda items can be commented on by residents.

The way council has been operating, public comments have been allowed on any consent calendar or public hearing item in addition to general public comments, but not on community reports. The latter are items that are generally informational, though sometimes city staff is looking for direction.

Council hasn’t typically allowed public comments on these items, including on Tuesday, Jan. 17, when a frequent public commenter tried to speak during a discussion about increased costs on the city’s fire station and city hall project. Council didn’t entertain their comment, as the agenda item was a community report, a decision for which the commenter later criticized City Council.

Shortly after that discussion, council members considered a resolution to change public comment rules by extending when comments can be entertained to allow them during community reports. This desire stemmed from discussions during council’s retreat earlier this month.

Council delayed approving the resolution last week to allow City Attorney Dan Foote time to refine the language, but in the 6-1 vote decided to consider an updated version of the resolution on Feb. 7. Council member Heather Sloop’s motion also indicated council would follow these guidelines going forward, including before passing the resolution at the next meeting.

“I move to table to Feb. 7, with the changes suggested by council, with the caveat that we practice the new changes prior to adoption,” Sloop said in her motion.

Based on council’s discussion, community reports would be split into two different sections on the agenda, with one section labeled as purely informational items and another for when council needs to give city staff direction. When council is giving direction, public comments will be taken during the item and before direction is given.

Council members also want to allow the public to comment on informational items such as council members’ reports or the city manager’s report, too. Rather than specifically calling for comment during these items, members of the public would now be allowed to speak on these issues during general public comments, which are scheduled for 6 p.m. during regular council meetings.

Previously, general public comments had been restricted to comments about things not on the agenda.

“For example, an annexation update,” council member Dakotah McGinlay said. “Somebody could make a public comment (during general public comments.)”

City Council President Robin Crossan was the lone vote against Sloop’s motion because she didn’t agree with the stipulation that it would go into effect before council actually voted on the resolution. Crossan didn’t object to the proposed changes, though, and suggested City Council approve them at the start of its next meeting.

“I don’t want to support something until it’s been voted on,” Crossan said. “That’s all.”

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