Speakers of the Arlington City Council may have less time to speak during the proposed public comment amendment

Mayor Jim Ross asked city staff for solutions to curb harmful rhetoric that had emerged in recent months.

Examples included members of the Steadfast Baptist Church suggesting that members of the LGBTQ community should be killed; Library advisory board meetings that featured anti-gay and transgender rhetoric; and a May rally where YouTube personality Alex Stein performed a rap describing abortion in graphic detail.

“We’ve had people address hate speech about abortion, about women, about racism, about bigotry, about Gay Pride,” Ross said during the Nov. 29 meeting. “I want to make sure we do everything in our power as mayor and council to not tolerate hate speech.”

The proposal, which the council discussed Tuesday, would limit individual comments to two minutes if 25 or fewer people pre-register, and one minute if more than 25 speakers sign up. It would also ban props such as signs and loudspeakers. Members of the public will still be able to bring up pre-written comments or deliver documents to the council.

The changes in public comment will not affect the registration and time requirements for specific agenda items. This means that people can still register in the chambers if they want to talk about a proposed ordinance or regulatory matter.

District 4 Councilman Andrew Piel said the registration deadline at 10 a.m. may prevent people from approaching the podium who feel compelled to speak at the last minute.

“I think we address the concerns of the deadline proposal that is here,” Piel said.

Ross and others disagreed.

He said the time limit would allow staff to interact with people who have signed up, and people who miss the deadline can try again at the next council meeting.

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“It gives employees an opportunity, even if it’s for a few hours, to solve problems that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Ross said.

Bowie Hogg, at-large member of District 7, said he and other council members regularly make themselves available and offer their cell phone numbers.

“I don’t think this is about limiting. I think we’re very accessible … I think it’s about giving staff that time to access and work with those individuals who have some big issues that need to be addressed. “

Barbara Odom-Wesley, at-large District 8, said the deadline would give the council time to set up accommodations for people who need them.

Molly Shortall, city attorney, said in an email that she expects the City Council to vote on the proposal on March 7.

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