In the realm of local politics, the Ann
Arbor City Council has consistently shown itself to be remarkably
receptive to the opinions of Ann Arbor residents. At council
meetings, residents have the opportunity to air concerns, desires
and demands to their elected officials — a wonderful facet of
Ann Arbor politics. However, a desire on behalf of several council
members to prohibit speech deemed to be “off-topic”
from council meetings threatens to compromise this tradition and
partially sever this direct link between residents and their local
government.

Kate Green

Presently, a resident wishing to address the council can use one
of eight blocks of four minutes each at every meeting in which to
speak. Residents are allowed to speak on any topic they desire,
from those immediately relevant to the council’s agenda to
those on the other side of the world. Additionally, there are
several minutes set aside at the end of each meeting for public
input.

In the past, this time has been used by both residents and
students to lobby for issues or to address proposals on the agenda.
For example, when the Washtenaw-Hill Historic District proposal
threatened to compromise the Greek community’s ability to
maintain its houses, Greek students were able to address the City
Council on the matter. The measure was later tabled, due in no
small part to the input of these students.

The changes promise to alter this proud tradition in a subtle
but significant manner. Speaking time would fall from four minutes
to three, the number of available slots would increase from eight
to nine, but speakers would be forced to speak on a topic on the
agenda. Additionally, should all nine spots be full, only two
speakers per agenda topic would be allowed.

While this effort to limit public input may not have a
significant impact on the majority of those wishing to speak at
council meetings, it is unfortunate that the council would seek to
place any restrictions as to the topics that citizens can bring
before their elected officials. Such restrictions run contrary to
the purpose of allowing public speakers at council meetings —
to bring forth diverse ideas and opinions, to recognize
constituents and to shed light on issues that perhaps might not be
on the council’s docket.

Especially given that students do not have a representative on
the council, it is important that residents have access to local
government in the most unrestricted manner possible. To set limits
on topics is an unnecessary and highly coercive step that helps
shut the door to valuable input from Ann Arbor residents.

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