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Billings mayor aiming for shorter discussion time for NDO

Written comments pouring in
Posted at 2:18 PM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 19:52:50-05

BILLINGS — Billings Mayor Bill Cole said Wednesday he is aiming for efficiency in hearing public comment at the Feb. 24 City Council meeting where a non-discrimination ordinance will have its first vote.

“This is a question of whether to put something on our agenda," Cole told Q2. "But it will be very important to be efficient in receiving and making comments.”

A non-discrimination ordinance would protect LGBTQ people, among others, from discrimination in housing or public accommodation. To read the full NDO, click here.

At the meeting, the council will vote whether to put the NDO on the March 23 agenda. The NDO needs six "yes" votes to move forward.

The non-discrimination ordinance will be brought up at the very end of the meeting during discussion on non-agenda items. The regular agenda has nine items, which is more packed than a typical meeting.

"People need to know if they come at the very beginning they may have to wait quite a while for the opportunity to speak,” Cole said.

Traditionally, a person is allowed three minutes per comment in any public comment period at a Council meeting.

The mayor has the authority to change the timing, duration and date of public comment as long as the public is given a "reasonable opportunity to be heard," City Attorney Brent Brooks told the council at its Tuesday meeting.

“I think we’ll start with the traditional three-minute time period for a while, especially for some of the organized proponents and organized opponents. But after maybe a half hour or hour of that, I think we’ll probably try to reduce the time given for each comment, maybe down to two minutes," Cole said.

If there is still abundant public interest after the council hears from people at two minutes a piece, the mayor said he may reduce comments to one minute per person.

“It’s important that people come prepared to either give written comments, or if they want to speak, they be able to adjust their comments down in the amount of time,” Cole said.

Cole said people have been sending the Council emails over the past weeks, and people will have an opportunity to write comments to the council at the meeting.

“Our emails have been full. People have had an opportunity now for several weeks to give us their input by writing. I encourage that. It’s a great way for people to have their heard," Cole said.

A NDO was brought before In August 2014, before Cole took office, and was eventually defeated in a 6-5 vote. Debate at that meeting, and others in the weeks prior, lasted into the early morning hours of the next day.

The mayor has the authority to end public comment and pick it back up at a later time. But Cole said he would like the NDO decision to happen Monday night and not bleed into the next day.

“I suppose we could adjourn the meeting and continue that (discussion), depending on the lateness of the hour. That would be a possibility. I would want the input of the Council on that. My preference, personally, is to be done and move on with the vote," Cole said.

The mayor could also cut off spoken public comment and continue the meeting if he chooses.

“We do have an obligation to hear from the public, but legally we don’t have an obligation to hear from every single person in the public. I think after we’ve had a fair amount of time, especially given all of the input we’ve had already, that would be sufficient. But it will be very important to be efficient in receiving and making comments," Cole said.

Following public comment, there is time allowed for discussion among the Council. Cole said council comments will take "a considerable amount of time," adding length to the meeting.

“It’s a packed agenda already, so there’s no doubt that this will be a long one," Cole said.