At Thursday’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Willie Burton introduced a motion to extend public comment time from two minutes per person to three minutes, saying it is something his constituents have asked for.
“Two minutes is not enough time for many of our constituents who come before us. Three minutes is definitely appropriate due to the fact that we are on Zoom, and so there could be some internet failures,” Burton said.
The pandemic has forced all levels of government, including the police board, to rethink public access and open meeting requirements. Although virtual meetings can be more accessible, the format poses new challenges, and some have struggled to participate in online meetings.
In Burton’s opinion, some people need a little bit of time to collect their thoughts.
“The police are involved in their lives 24/7, and so they may be nervous when it comes before this honorable body,” he said.
Commissioner Darryl Brown spoke in favor of extending the public comment period, saying he sees “nothing wrong” with allowing people an extra minute to speak.
“I just think we need to point that out, and there’s been several times that people were trying to make a point, and right in the middle of making that point, they’re being cut off,” Brown said.
Brown says he’s received calls from people saying they log in to the meetings but aren’t allowed to speak, mostly because of technical difficulties associated with virtual meetings.
“One of those people is an elected official, and it’s embarrassing that that’s how we’re treating our colleagues or people in other other elected offices,” he said.
But a majority of the board disagreed on the time extension. Commissioner Jim Holley said extending public comment would have slowed down the meetings.
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“I don’t know why you’d want to extend the time from two minutes to three minutes when we sometimes have 20 people who want to speak up during public comment. But other than that, I just don’t see a need to raise it unless people want to speak on something that really bothers them,” Holley said.
Commissioner Shirley Burch also called extending the comment time unnecessary.
“I’ve noticed that many times the citizen will say, ‘I waive my time.’ So for me, I don’t see a need to extend it to three minutes,” Burch said.
Later in the meeting, after the board voted against the time extension, Eric Blount, a minister at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Detroit and a regular attendee of police commissioner meetings, spoke during public comment to address Burch’s statement about waiving time.
“I speak at these meetings regularly, and without fail, I do not include all of the significant points I want to make because I’m limited to my time. So through obedience to the rules, I yield my time. It is not because I have nothing else to say,” Blount said.
During the meeting Burton, who became the youngest member of the board back in 2014, said he wants the board to be more transparent.
“When it comes to how board members vote on issues, it’d be nice if we could see the voting record on the City’s website, on the Board of Police Commissioners page. This is something that’s also been introduced to me from one of my constituents.”