Civic-minded Norman residents watching city council meetings remotely could see some interesting viewing with a recent format change.
It played out for the first time Tuesday. Residents taking part in the meeting’s “miscellaneous comments” portion had their microphones go silent three minutes after they began. Previously, commenters had five minutes.
That’s because Norman Mayor Breea Clark trimmed their allotted time by 40 percent. On the job since July 2, Clark also opted to restore that section of the meeting to public access television and the city’s YouTube feed.
“Miscellaneous comments” typically close the council’s meeting. On Tuesday night, two residents came forward to make comments and both were cut off by the three-minute limit.
“I fully support public engagement at City Hall and in local government generally, but I also understand [former] Mayor Lynne Miller’s desire to shorten the length of meetings that often last over five hours,” Clark said.
“I am hopeful that by reinstating the broadcasting of public comment — but limiting comments to three minutes — we will achieve both goals of supporting public engagement for our viewers at home and online as well as shortening the length of our meetings.”
The time change only effects the miscellaneous comments.
“I’m all for transparency and communication. I wish the mayor well and success, but it’s only going to happen well if there is a real desire to engage the community, to listen and to be accountable,” Norman resident Paul Arcaroli said. “And, quite frankly, that message was not the message we got. Three minutes is enough time to say, ‘My name is …’”
Arcaroli said some residents are not the best public speakers or struggle to have specific points.
“I get that,” he said, “but democracy is messy, and I’m perfectly willing to sit there and sit through that to get to the rest.”
The miscellaneous comments were originally removed from broadcast by Miller on May 14. She said the decision would streamline meetings.
Though the comments were not streamed live, they were still available for viewing on the city’s online archive.
• Center City Form-Based Code: The council motioned to introduce and adopt the Center City form-based code amendments on first reading. The second reading and vote is scheduled for June 23.
The detailed code dictates specific requirements regarding building height, layout, parking, green spaces, renovation and building form standards. The new code also dictates new standards for street and sidewalk widths.
Brad Worster, JR Fulton & Associates Realtor, has attended many of the previous meetings where the ad hoc committee developed the amendments. Worster said he believes they’re the best option given the time allotted.
“I think the things they have added are appropriate and will help solve some of the problems, both from the development side and from the neighbors’ concerns,” Worster said. “I still think there are some pieces that have to be addressed when they move into the commercial development area, but I support the changes as they have them drafted.”
• Executive Session: After the miscellaneous comments, the council entered executive session to discuss civil litigation between activist Matthew Casey Holcomb and Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman. In a lawsuit, Holcomb asserted his First Amendment rights were violated when his comments on Ward 4’s Facebook page were removed. Ward 8 council member Alex Scott was the sole opposing vote to enter executive session.
• Proclamation: Clark’s first proclamation as mayor dedicated July as “Water’s Worth It” month in the city. She is asking residents to be aware of the importance of maintaining safe water.
• Roll call: Ward 4 council member Hickman was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.