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NLR Council puts more restrictions on public comments at council meetings

The North Little Rock Council on Monday voted by a 6-2 margin to change some of its rules regarding how citizens can make comments at public meetings.

The council followed the recommendation of Alderman Charlie Hight, who called Ordinance 2013-2 the “Hight Amendment.”

The Hight Amendment puts more restrictions on citizens approaching the council if they wish to criticize an individual alderman.

For issues citizens want to bring up at the council meetings, if topics are not on the agenda, citizens are to be instructed to “address their remarks to the mayor and city council as a whole and not to any individual member of the council.”

Hight said he wanted individual aldermen not singled out because he wanted to see council meetings kept civil.

Alderman Murry Witcher disagreed with Hight’s amendment.

“I appreciate that you want to shield us from criticism; but, to the public, sometimes we need to be scolded,” Witcher said. “We need to be put on the hot seat. I personally feel uncomfortable addressing specifically the council in this and not allowing people to be eligible to criticize us if they feel we have done something wrong.”

Hight said he disagreed with Witcher. He said if people want to make critical statements they could fill out a card and make their comments on agenda-related items.

“If they get outside of that we can rule them out of order,” Hight said. “Throwing rocks at individuals is not the proper way for people to conduct themselves.

Hight said the council does not have to allow people time to put individual aldermen in the hot seat.

Alderman Beth White said she saw good arguments on both sides of the issue. “Aldermen do have the opportunity to speak back although we generally do not respond back,” White said.

The amendment passed the council, with only Witcher and Debi Ross in opposition.

“Thank you,” Hight said after the vote.

Besides more strictly regulating how people speak at council meetings, aldermen changed the regular meeting times of their regular sessions. Starting in February, meetings will start at 6:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Hight’s amendment originally called for meetings to be moved up to 6 p.m. that would allow presentations to be conducted earlier. However, Ross said she thought making meetings so early would make it more difficult for some people to attend the public meetings due to work and family conflicts.

Alderman Linda Robinson agreed with Ross’ comment, adding, “I am okay with 6:30.”

Robinson said her Ward 2 constituents have supported scheduling council meetings at 6:30 p.m. or keeping them the same at 7 p.m.

The council also moved to change the way its public meetings are opened. On a rotating basis, each alderman will rotate if and how the council meetings will open with prayer.

“For the purpose of solemnizing the official meetings of city council, each meeting may be opened with brief words of thoughtfulness, prayer or encouragement intended to reflect upon the important duty undertaken by the council to fairly represent all people within the community,” reads the amendment. “The privilege of speaking at this time shall be rotated evenly among the aldermen, who may invite other persons to speak on their behalf.”

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