The Granite Shoals City Council meeting on Nov. 28 was available to view in person and online thanks to the city’s current policy on Zoom participation. The council chose to continue streaming its meetings and allowing online participation after at least a year of discussion on the matter. Staff photos by Dakota Morrissiey
The Granite Shoals City Council chose to continue allowing online public participation and viewing through Zoom during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 28. The council also asked City Attorney Josh Katz to draw up new guidelines for public participation that would cut the time for comments from six minutes to three.
Granite Shoals is the only city in the Highland Lakes to allow public participation via an online streaming app. It is one of the few that still streams its meetings after COVID-19 protocols ended. City leadership has been debating whether or not to continue streaming and allowing online participation during its meetings for at least a year.
Along with cutting the time for public comment in half, Katz was asked to look into better guidelines for decorum in general. One suggestion was to move all official public comments to a single public comment agenda item at the outset of the meeting. The presiding officer would be allowed to recognize audience members for additional public comments or extend the duration of their comment time.
“I’ve been on council for five years, and in the five years, I’ve had five mayors. And all five mayors have always permitted people to talk during the meetings,” said newly anointed Mayor Ron Munos. “We value citizens’ comments, but I think we do need to tighten it down a little bit so we don’t go back and forth.”
Munos was referring to the city’s culture of allowing open discussion and audience participation throughout its meetings, not just during a public comment period.
The city frequently holds in-depth discussions with audience members while working on city business.
“The way most cities do it, and the way your rules are really written, is that when the public makes a comment, it’s not an invitation to participate in the legislative function of the council,” Katz explained to the council at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think I am suggesting that the proper way to govern a meeting would be to thank someone for their comment, but it doesn’t create a question-and-answer session. That would be a town hall meeting.”
The council voiced their approval with a unanimous decision to have a resolution drafted.
“Before I got up here (on the council), when I was still out there (in the audience), I was probably one of the worst about jumping up (and speaking) because I did not know about the rules of decorum,” said Councilor Judy Salvaggio, who was a frequent audience member and participant in council discussions before she was on the council. “I’ve learned there are rules of decorum, and we’re not doing it.”
Legally, governing bodies are not allowed to address public comments unless the item is on the agenda. A city staff member can answer questions, but elected officials must stick to agenda items. Most city councils, school boards, and county commissioners courts limit public comment to three minutes and only during a public comment section that is usually at the beginning of the meeting. Burnet County commissioners clarified their rules of decorum at their most recent meeting, also on Nov. 28.