Public comment time shifts under new Langley mayor

Anyone with something to say to Langley city leaders may have to wait a while longer for their turn at the council’s bi-monthly meetings.

Mayor Tim Callison, less than one week into his first year of a four-year term, changed the Langley City Council meeting format at the Jan. 4 regular meeting. Public comment was the eighth item on the 13-item agenda then, and was pushed back further to the last item of business in the 14-item agenda at the Jan. 19 meeting. The change was neither announced nor explained at either meeting.

“We’re just trying out different things, order, flow, etc,” Callison said later in a followup interview.

Specifically for the Jan. 19 meeting, said Callison, bumping public comment to the end made sense. The council interviewed three candidates for an appointment to its ranks, which lasted nearly an hour plus a 30-minute executive session. In other meetings, public comment may be earlier on the agenda.

“It may move again,” Callison said.

In the past several years, public comment was one of the first items on the agenda. Typically, council meetings opened with a call to order, approval of the day’s agenda, approval of the consent agenda, recognition and appreciation ceremonies, commission and board reports, then citizen comments.

According to the Municipal Resource Services Center website — the organization serves as an information resource or how-to guide for governments — “There is no required format or particular order for the council meeting agenda.”

Examples of other cities’ agendas illustrate their flexibility. The City of Bothell council agenda has “addressing the council” as the penultimate item and Woodland’s city council has public comment fifth. Langley’s fellow island municipalities both have their comment periods earlier on the council agendas. In Oak Harbor, citizen comment is the third agenda item. In Coupeville, it’s fifth.

Similarly, public comment is not required of regular public meetings, though it is a sign of open, transparent government. So long as a quorum of the council meets in public and has notified the public of that meeting at least 24 hours ahead of time, the council can order its business as it sees fit.

In recent years, Langley has had its share of disruptive and boisterous council meetings and public comments. In 2015, John Norby dragged a dirty, discarded tire into city hall and left it at former Mayor Fred McCarthy’s feet. It was done to illustrate his frustration over dozens of old tires left in a wooded area that he had previously called to city hall’s attention in hopes of their removal. Prior to that, rules about food trucks and specifically issues of The Big W food truck’s location, size and temporary suspension drew a large crowd with plenty to tell Langley City Hall.

Making citizens wait wasn’t done as a means of deterring such acts, Callison said.

“If a citizen was going to take that kind of action, they would take that kind of action no matter where we put it in the agenda,” he said.

Instead, the mayor said it was in response to his observations of more than a year’s worth of meetings. Often, he said, people show up to say something about an issue the council and staff will address. If they wait until those discussions take place, their concerns, questions or comments may prove unnecessary.