Galveston leaders are expected to consider a measure Thursday evening that would bar members of the public from addressing City Council on topics not included on its agenda.

The proposed ordinance change said that time dedicated to public comment for non-agenda items has been “misused for self-promotion of business interests and other non-municipal related topics which detract time and attention away from other topics needing the attention of City Council.” 

Residents currently have three minutes to comment on issues on and off the agenda. 

Mayor Craig Brown told the Galveston County Daily News that voting to remove time for public comment on non-agenda items could help move meetings along and limit self promotion by business owners. 

The proposed ordinance revision states that eliminating public comment time dedicated to non-agenda items would have no impact on the ability of residents to express their concerns to council but would eliminate “the drain on city and staff time.” 

On the city’s website, each city council member has his or her email address listed, as well as a central telephone number answered by a receptionist. 

This is not the first time residents say their voices were being stifled. Earlier this month, residents were upset the council did not read a submission of more than 80 letters during the meeting before voting to restrict East Beach parking. Residents said they worried that restricting access to beach parking would make the beach less accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities. 

Under state law, local entities are required to allow citizens to comment on agenda items, but can adopt rules that regulate the number of speakers and the length of time they are allowed to speak. Those rules must apply to everyone equally. 

Local governments can, but do not have to, allow the public to speak on non-agenda items. 

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation said what a citizen and a council member considers to be an agenda item can be different. The line where that is interpreted could be a slippery slope. 

“The law was passed in order to give people a voice. When you start restricting that, it goes against the purpose of the law,” she said. “You can institute time limits but it has to be done fairly.” 

Former Galveston council member Jackie Cole said having the ability to comment on non-agenda items in city council is crucial. 

“It’s the only public place for people to bring their grievances to the city,” she said. “People can email City Council but that information isn’t public.” 

Cole said she has not watched every meeting but has not seen people using their public comment time to promote themselves or their businesses very often. Even if they did, she said, that is not a reason to eliminate an avenue for public comment to the council. 

“It’s like the pesky public is bothering them,” she said. “But it’s their job.” 

Galveston City Council will  consider the proposed ordinance at its regular 5 p.m. meeting Thursday at City Hall located at 823 Rosenberg.

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Briah Lumpkins is a suburban reporter for the Houston Landing. She most recently spent a year in Charleston, South Carolina, working as an investigative reporting fellow at The Post and Courier via Frontline...