Limits on public comments lifted

first_imgUnder fire from critics who questioned the legality of rules limiting how often the public can speak at meetings, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to drop the restrictions. Previously, residents were limited to speaking once every three months during public comment at the end of the board’s weekly Tuesday meetings. Also, only five people were allowed to address the board during those meetings. All of the restrictions, in place since 1992, were lifted. “That’s the most restrictive rule I’ve ever heard of,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. “The law does permit legislative bodies to prescribe reasonable regulations to allocate the available time among speakers. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat Kings“… However, it certainly strikes me that restricting a speaker to only once every three months – that a court would likely view that as overly restrictive, unreasonable and therefore a violation of the Brown Act.” Open government advocate Karen Ocamb, who as the former head of the Los Angeles Press Club Sunshine Committee helped urge the board to pass motions making county government less secretive, said the supervisors rarely hear directly from their constituents. “I’m glad they are finally recognizing that more input from the public is better,” Ocamb said. “It’s like a form of censorship to restrict free speech that way.” The county, often criticized for deciding matters behind closed doors and not complying with open meeting laws, decided to make the changes after the County Counsel’s Office, Executive Office and District Attorney’s Office reviewed the board rules and identified several sections that raised legal questions, said Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. Jennifer Snyder, assistant head deputy in the District Attorney’s Office Public Integrity Division, said the action was first prompted by a complaint her office received. “We urged the County Counsel’s Office to drop the ordinance because it didn’t serve a legitimate purpose regulating public comment,” Snyder said. “The law says you can only regulate the time, place and manner so an agency can continue to do its business.” The motion by board Chair Zev Yaroslavsky also gives the chair the discretion to let fellow board members speak up to 10 minutes on an agenda item, instead of the current three to five minutes. And it changes the official name of the board chair from mayor to mayor/chair. In addition, members of the public in the past who wished to address the board on an agenda item had to submit a request before the meeting. Under the new rules, people must only submit the request before the item is called. Now Ocamb said she hopes the supervisors will follow the City Council’s lead in passing a resolution that actually requires them to listen to people who address them. “I’d like to see something similar addressed before the Board of Supervisors because too often people go and speak, they have spent their whole day, spent time getting down there, spent money on parking, spent time waiting for their turn to speak,” Ocamb said. “… Oftentimes they are on the phone, looking at papers or doing something else and that is just rude.” troy.anderson@dailynews.com 213-974-8985 Staff Writer160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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