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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Activists want equal treatment at city meetings

Albuquerque's last City Council meeting left more than a few people feeling that they had been slighted by City Council President Don Harris's two minute rule.

Councilor Harris announced that speakers in the Public Forum section of the meeting would be allowed to speak for only two minutes on each topic they had signed up for and that pooling or giving up of ones time would not be allowed. Topic of interest to the public were Mayor Berry's Veto of the Department of Justice Investigation and APD's internal affairs report. The Burque Blotter contacted Councilor Harris's office today (Sept. 14) and asked via email and telephone message, if there was any written policy regarding time limits for the public forum and when had it been implemented in the past. The Blotter did not receive a response directly from Councilor Harris's office however, an email response with an excerpt from the rules book for City Council meetings, from Laura Mason, Director of Council Services. Section 8 of the rule book states that the amount of time allowed for each speaker is at the discretion of the President and that time limits must be applied equally to all speakers in the Public Forum.

Jewel Hall, President of The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center Task Force on Social Justice for Public Safety disagrees.

"Two minutes is barely enough time to take a breath. I was not going to move (even when they rang the bell) because I needed some more time," said Hall.

Hall is a certified Parliamentarian who has resided in Albuquerque for over 30 years and is a staunch supporter of freedom of speech and civil rights issues.

"This (police brutality) is making Mississippi look like a Golden State. That's why we organized to advocate for people who are intimidated," said Hall.

Hall also noted the placement of "Reserved Seating" signs extensively throughout the first two front rows near the podium and also mentioned that some speakers who did not speak on Mayor Berry's Veto were allowed more time to speak. Hall's concerns regarding the two minute time limits were relayed to Mason in a phone interview.

"We try to be very accurate as to the time limit.Overall I think that we do a good job at timing. I also noticed that some of the councilors tried to give folks extra time by asking them questions," she replied.

Mason also noted that people can type statements and submit them to the City Council before the meeting so that the statements go on record at the meeting.

Nicol Moreland, Ph.D, a research psychologist with Bernalillo County disagrees with the two minute rule and the structure of the meetings.

"They (City Council) set the meetings too early and put the "hot topics" at the end of the agenda. People have to take time off to get to a meeting that starts at 5:00p.m." she said.

As for the implementation of the two minute rule.

"There's no freedom of speech if people can't get up and effectively question their government," said Moreland.

The Burque Blotter also contacted The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government regarding the issues surrounding the City Council meeting. Executive Director, Sarah Welsh, stated that the Open Meetings Act does not cover public forum at city meetings. However, evidence of discrimination against individual speakers violates the Freedom of Speech Act.

People interested in viewing the Sept. 7th meeting can go to\council and click on the streaming video of council footage. A complete copy of City Council Meeting rules and procedures can also be downloaded.

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