You can say a lot in three minutes or less and deliver words that have a lasting impact.
Edward Everett spoke for two hours on Nov. 19. 1863.
No one remembers much of what he said.
Then the next speaker talked for two minutes.
The points he made still resonate today. It was President Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address driving home the point that all men are created equal.
The Manteca City Council after Mayor Ben Cantu asked if his colleagues wanted to lengthen the time public speakers could talk on issues before the City Council from three to five minutes, the response was no. Things were just fine.
Based on past council eras where public comments hijacked council meetings and the podium time was extended on the whim of the mayor if he agreed with the points speakers were making, what Manteca is currently is doing is civil and evenhanded.
Councilman Gary Singh did ask that staff explore rules that would allow those with endeavors before the City Council for approval — such as a new housing development or even a permit to close a street for a block party — time to respond to criticisms raised by other public speakers against the proposal.
Currently the only response time applicants get when such questions are raised is if a council member opts to repeat the same question to the applicant when questions are asked for from council members by the mayor.
Since Dave Nefouse was hired as city attorney he has taken a proactive approach to his role as essentially being the parliamentarian of City Council meetings.
The mayor runs the meetings. In doing so, they need to adhere to rules established by the council majority as well as state laws and court rulings.
Nefouse has been consistent in making sure rules are followed,
He politely and firmly interrupts speakers from the public — regardless of whether they are criticizing or agreeing with the council – when their allotted three minutes have been reached.
When a speaker tries to address the council again — either a second time in public comments or on a specific issue — he will remind them that they get only one opportunity per agenda item or during public comments.
At the same time if the mayor seeks to discourage others from essentially stating the same position a previous speaker said on a subject, Nefouse reminds everyone that they have a right to address the council.
There are of course rules of decorum that can’t be abused that run the gamut from shouting, making threats, and engaging in personal attacks.
The conduct of council meetings today is lightyears away from 2000.
At the time then Mayor Carlon Perry — who was steadfast opposed to the Big League Dreams sports complex project — allowed speakers to talk way beyond three minutes during public comments and when the BLD project was actually on the agenda.
In one case, one resident was allowed to speak no less than seven different times under public comment assailing the city for even considering the BLD project.
A group of residents had banned together to work to defeat the BLD. They attended every meeting and spoke against the endeavor under public comments when it wasn’t on the agenda and again later in the meeting if it was on the agenda.
Given the public comment was at the beginning of the meeting, it was not uncommon for the city to spend the first 90 minutes of a meeting listening to public comment before starting the agenda items.
The longest meeting possibly in city history involved the group employing the strategy one July night when the BLD project was on the agenda. Between public comments and the actual BLD item, the council spent five hours on the subject.
The overall council meeting ran from 7 p.m. to 3:25 a.m.
When Willie Weatherford was elected mayor, he went back to enforcing the three-minute time rule.
He also moved public comments to the back of the agenda.
After several years, the mayor and council moved public comments back to the beginning of meetings
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org