The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 6, 2013

N. Kato may change how and when citizens can speak

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO —  A proposal to remove the second public comment period from North Mankato’s City Council meetings and double the length people can talk during the first period will go to a public hearing.

Though the council’s Monday action only set a June 3 public hearing on the matter, on a 3-2 vote, it became clear that the proposal itself will be controversial.

City Administrator John Harrenstein said he initially planned to remove the end-of-meeting public hearing under his authority as administrator, but was told that this would require a change to city code.

He said public comment is more meaningful at the beginning of a meeting, when the council can still act on the testimony. As part of the proposed changes, each member of the public would be able to speak for six minutes at the start of a meeting, up from the current three minutes.

Mayor Mark Dehen agreed that the public hearing at the end of each meeting isn’t particularly useful because the council has already acted.

Councilman Bob Freyberg disagreed, saying “it’s not the amount of time, it’s the positioning of comment periods.”

If, for example, a citizen sits through a late November budget meeting and has something to add, he or she would have to wait until the next meeting. But by the time that happens, the discussion from the earlier meeting may already have been incorporated in the budget.

Freyberg and Councilman Kim Spears voted against setting the public hearing.

“It’s taken us four years where citizens are stepping up and having comment,” Spears said. “This policy has been working since then. I don’t see a reason to even consider a change at this point.”

City Attorney Mike Kennedy said some cities ask residents to contact the city clerk ahead of time so staff can be prepared for the discussion.

“They all take citizen input,” he said of cities. “It’s just a matter of how they go about doing it.”

The June 3 public hearing on the matter is June 3 at 7 p.m.

In other action during Monday’s hour-long meeting, the council:

* approved a plan to spend about $55,000 in federal money, about 70 percent of it on rehabilitation of single-family homes. The city’s over-arching plan for this money was also amended to allow some of it, $8,340 to be exact, to be spent on citywide planning.

* set bicycle routes in Lower North. In addition to a stretch along Nicollet Avenue, the routes run along north-south streets and will be marked with signs and perhaps on-street markings.