Town Council approves public comment proposal

Town Council members had plenty to say last week about public comment.

The council eventually passed a provision to include a public comment portion, listed on the agenda, at the beginning of each full council meeting. The public will be allowed to comment only on issues before the board that evening.

Before the vote, council members talked extensively about the proposal, brought forward by District 3 Democrat Vicki Tesoro. Some members argued that the public comment rule already in place was sufficient, others said comment would have little impact at the full council meeting, and some supported a new policy but didn’t think it should be part of the official meeting minutes.

“I can’t wrap my head around why we keep arguing about these fine details,” Tesoro said. “Let’s give the opportunity for the public to get engaged. They should be able to speak to us in whatever medium they want to choose to use.”

District 1 Republican Suzanne Testani, who said she was in support of comment, said the council just wanted to make sure they got it right.

“The Town Council has never implemented this before, so I don’t see any problem with taking our time and researching it,” she said.

The board’s policy has allowed for public comment, at the chairman’s discretion, but it was not part of the agenda each week.

District 2 Republican Cindy Penkoff said public comment was important at the subcommittee level, but not at the full council, when most members already know how they will vote on an issue.

“Public comment should be at all subcommittee meetings — that’s where the work is done,” Penkoff said.

District 2 Republican Kenneth Martin Sr. noted that he checked with Trumbull’s neighboring municipalities and all have public comment portions of meetings.

“As a resident, I’ve been in a position where I came before a meeting and was not allowed to speak,” he said. “Talking to a subcommittee is not the same as addressing the entire council.”

Michael London, a Republican representing District 3, said the issue of public comment hasn’t come up before, since the chair can allow it, but he said he was not opposed to allowing for a couple of minutes of time for the public.

“You may very well hear something that will reinforce your view or even change it,” London said to fellow council members.

Some Republicans were more hesitant about public comment being part of the meeting minutes or aired on Trumbull Community Television, including District 4 Republican Enrico Costantini. Costantini said people should be speaking to the council, not potentially trying to be heard by the entire town on local access. He advocated for allowing comment before the official meeting began. London responded that any effort to not include public comment as a part of the meeting minutes or to stop Trumbull Community Television from filming it would violate the Freedom of Information Act.

“I just think that’s simply wrong,” London said of keeping comment out of the official meeting. “I will file a complaint with FOI.”

As debate dragged on, some members expressed frustration and reminded fellow council members that most surrounding communities already have this on meeting agendas.

“As usual, I think we’ve beat this one to death,” District 3 Republican James Blose said. “All our peers have public comment. We live in a transparent society, but you can’t come here and say a few words?”

The final resolution will put public comment on the agenda at the start of every monthly meeting. It will require speakers to address only topics on the agenda and sets a two-minute limit for speakers.