Public comment is back: Citizen concerns to be allowed at meetings — for now

HARLINGEN — Citizens can again take the podium at City Commission meetings.

That is, at least until officials determine whether they’ll replace the city’s public comment period.

Yesterday, Mayor Chris Boswell said he placed the citizen communication period on today’s agenda, allowing citizens a chance to speak before commissioners.

He said he removed the public comment period from the end of the Commission’s Aug. 3 agenda because he realized an executive session discussion would continue into the night.

The citizen communication period, which allows citizens two minutes to speak before the Commission, will continue to appear on the Commission’s agendas while City Attorney Richard Bilbie considers alternatives, Boswell said.

“He is looking into that,” Boswell said of alternatives to the public comment period. “If there is a proposal from the city attorney’s office, we’ll consider it.”

Early this month, Bilbie said the city removed the public comment period while officials consider alternatives.

Bilbie also noted the Texas Open Meeting’s Act does not require the city to include a public comment period.

Yesterday, Bilbie’s secretary said he declined comment on the matter.

Bilbie has said he’s considering an alternative the city of McAllen initiated early this year.

In McAllen, officials removed the city’s public comment period, Assistant City Attorney Victor Flores said.

In its place, Flores said, city commissioners make themselves available to speak with citizens after meetings.

The city used to hold its public comment period at the beginning of its City Commission meetings.

But Boswell said the city moved its citizen communication period to the end of meetings about two or three years ago because cities such as McAllen, Brownsville and Corpus Christi held their public comment periods at their meetings’ end.

Moving the citizen communication period to the end of the meetings makes meetings “more efficient” because people who come on business can more promptly complete their discussions with commissioners, Boswell said.