Albuquerque city councilors narrowly agreed late tonight to start limiting the amount of general public comment they accept at the beginning of their meetings.
Under an amendment to council rules sponsored by Isaac Benton and Brad Winter, the council will now allow only up to 30 people to speak during public comment, or roughly an hour’s worth. If more people want to speak, they can address the council at the end of the meeting, which is often around 11 p.m.
There would be no limit on the number of people who sign up to speak on individual bills before the council.
Public comment isn’t limited to any topic.
The change was adopted on a 5-3 vote, with opposition from Ken Sanchez, Klarissa Peña and Rey Garduño. Dan Lewis wasn’t present because of a previously scheduled obligation.
“I do not take this lightly,” Benton said. “My sense is that in recent times, by the time, the general public comment is done … I have a sense that our energy is drained. We don’t have the time we need for robust debate on the issues before us.”
Councilor Diane Gibson also voiced support.
“I’m a defender of free speech and the right to speak openly,” she said, “but we were also elected to do a job here — that is to take care of the business of the city. That’s being impeded on by more and more lengthy periods of public comment.”
Sanchez spoke against the idea.
“I think the Albuquerque City Council is democracy at its best,” Sanchez said. “… This is the only venue people have to address the issues in the police department.”
Garduño called the proposal “egregious.”
“I can’t imagine any of the business we take care of is more important than hearing from our constituents,” he said.
The Benton-Winter amendment came as part a bill that also made permanent some interim rules on public comment, banning signs and other props from the chambers.
The council’s public comment sessions sometimes attract 50 or more people. Typically, everyone is allowed to address the council for two minutes on any topic they want — whether related to city government or not.
It’s become increasingly crowded over the last few years as people show up to speak about the number of people shot and killed by APD.
Council meetings start about 5 p.m. Public comment often stretches past 7 p.m., and the meetings wrap up altogether around 11 or later.