Sacramento City Council meetings will start earlier beginning next week, but some say the change will make it hard for working people to attend.
The council will start meetings at 5 p.m. and open with public comments rather than hear from residents at the end, according to Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
Steinberg spokeswoman Kelly Rivas said the changes were made to give more people a chance to participate. The mayor’s office “heard from constituents that it’s difficult when public comments are at the end of meetings.”
Meetings regularly end after 10 p.m., and it’s not uncommon for them to creep past the midnight hour.
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“We want to try a little bit of a different approach,” she said. “It’s an experiment to see if we can encourage more participation.”
But some meeting regulars are unhappy with the change and view it as a tactic to curtail public comments. They observed that the change occurred after public comment sessions have grown increasingly contentious about four months into Steinberg’s tenure.
A core group of residents have bickered with Steinberg over meeting rules and attacked Steinberg and his colleagues on policies that include Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance. Steinberg has repeatedly warned the crowd from the dais when they yell comments from the seating area, clap or make noise. Some attendees have been removed at the mayor’s request.
“It’s silencing the public,” said James Lee Clark, an advocate for the homeless who attends most council sessions, of moving public comment to 5 p.m. “I honestly think it’s an attempt to try to control dissent.”
Clark said with most day jobs ending around 5 p.m., people will have a hard time arriving at City Hall in time to speak.
Other mayors have also tweaked the meeting rules and schedules. Former Mayor Kevin Johnson ended an afternoon session of the council, opting for a single weekly meeting in the evening.
Johnson also tried opening meetings with public comment before deciding he preferred them at the end, and he dropped the time limit for each speaker from three minutes to two. Johnson also had a contentious relationship with regular attendees and often left meetings prior to public comment.
“We were way worse to K.J. than we are to Steinberg,” said Clark.
Mac Worthy, another regular meeting attendee, said the change in meeting time could impact working people’s ability to attend but thought Steinberg was handling his hecklers well.
“Steinberg deals good with them,” Worthy said. “But, like I tell him: Steinberg you talk too much. What happened at the state level, forget about it. It’s a whole different thing.”