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Fremont City Council will consider reducing public comment opportunities

Posted at 5:41 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 20:09:50-04

FREMONT, Neb. (KMTV) — The Fremont City Council is set to discuss several proposed changes to the city code Tuesday evening at a 6 p.m. special meeting.

One would reduce the amount of times the council would receive comments from the public.

New proposed language reads: "Generally, public comment will not occur on items on the agenda unless specifically designated to occur on a particular item, or at the discretion of the presiding officer, or as otherwise provided by law."

More changes specify that proposed ordinances would receive public comment on its second reading. Currently, all agenda items are typically given public comment opportunities, said City Attorney Patrick Sullivan.

Sullivan said city council meetings run too long, sometimes making meetings less accessible when running into the late hours of the night.

But councilmember Glen Ellis said Fremonters do not trust their city government, and any move to reduce their voice will not be received well.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said government bodies should err on the side of open government.

"Whenever local government or state government...entertains changes to the rules about public participation, it usually raises a lot of red flags across the political spectrum," Conrad said.

Conrad said the process of only allowing public comment at some stages is "pretty familiar," but said it often may be best to accept public comment as changes are made throughout the process.

"If there is an opportunity for more public participation, the better," she said.

State statutesays public comment cannot be disallowed at all meetings but does not have to occur at all meetings.

A stalled bill introduced in the Legislature this year would have changed that.

Sullivan said the proposed changes should be understood as a rough draft, requiring more city council meetings to finalize.

Other proposed changes include removing the public's ability to remove an item from the consent agenda and ending the ability for fired or suspended city officials to have a hearing.

Sullivan said the changes are needed to bring Fremont code within state statute requirements.

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