Members of the public are allowed two minutes apiece to speak before the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority board, and that’s total, for all items on the agenda. The comments are all compressed into a period before the board starts plowing through its agenda.
This practice makes it hard for members of the public to make coherent presentations on issues the board is considering or may consider. The board actually has a person with a timer and a bell to ring you off the mic. It’s like high school debate class all over again, and if you have charts you would like to use in a presentation, it’s pretty much a lost cause to pull off in just two minutes.
The two-minute limit is also common at city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County public meetings, but there are some differences that enhance the ability of the public to be heard in those venues. The city allows people to sign up for public comment and also to speak on multiple bills and items of action before the City Council. The county also allows sign-ups for public comment as well as comments on proposed ordinances that require public hearings.
But the water authority board, predominatly made up of city councilors and county commissioners, is more draconian in its approach to public discourse. And there is no good reason for that, especially when discussing issues such as potential water and sewer rate hikes, policies governing the ubiquitous drought and management of water use and contaminated sites.
Yes, some people come week after week, month after month, to discuss, vent and assail members of public bodies. But those members either chose to run for election or have accepted an appointment to serve. It’s part of the public service gig.
Democracy is messy. So what?
These bodies are funded by the public, and those sitting on them should be willing to listen to their bosses – the taxpayers – for a few minutes.
The authority should bring its practices in line with the city and county.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.