Town Council considers public comment at meetings

Should the public get a say at Town Council meetings, or leave it up to their elected council members to represent their interests?

That’s the question that came up at Monday’s Town Council meeting. Council member Vicki Tesoro, a Democrat, proposed adding a public comment portion to the meeting, similar to what is allowed before each Trumbull Board of Education meeting. Tesoro’s proposal first went before the council’s Legislation and Administration Committee on Dec. 30, where it was voted down 3-1 by council members Suzanne Testani, Enrico Constantini and Joseph Pifko.

However, when Tesoro spoke to the full council Monday night regarding her proposal, Testani said she would reconsider the resolution and made a motion to bring the proposal back to the committee for further consideration.

“I think we should encourage public participation,” Tesoro said of her proposal. “Of the 23 resolutions we have before us tonight, only five had public hearings. We are a body that represents the people of Trumbull.”

In committee, those against adding public comment said that the council is a representative form of government and voters can speak with their council member at any time. They also argued that council meetings are lengthy and that adding public comment, especially that which is not germane to items on the agenda, could significantly lengthen meetings. The chair of the Town Council currently has discretion to let someone from the public speak, and those with doubts about the proposal said the current system has worked for years.

Tesoro presented council members with a sampling of 30 municipalities in the state that have public comment at council, aldermen and selectmen meetings, including Monroe’s Town Council. Tesoro said the 30 was a sampling that didn’t include all the towns and cities in the state that allow for public comment.

Tesoro argued that if 50 people had the same thing to say on a topic, the chairman would have discretion to limit the number of speakers and the length of their statements.

Testani’s motion to move the proposal back to committee for further discussion passed, with three people opposed.