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Choctaw considers limiting public comments

By Ryan Horton
Choctaw Times

City Council debates meeting restrictions for non-residents

At last week’s regular meeting, Choctaw City Council weighed the possibility of limiting public comments to residents of the city.

Some city officials say they hope to limit public comments to residents and people doing business in or with the City of Choctaw, and only allow comments from visitors with City Council approval.

“I want to hear from the people of Choctaw,” said mayor Randy Ross. “I want to hear from the people I represent.”

The city currently limits public comments to three minutes per speaker on items not included on that night’s agenda. Time is allotted at the beginning of each meeting for these comments.

Any other comments from the public must be made during public hearings scheduled on the agenda.

Members of the public hoping to speak must fill out a form listing their name and home address.

Mayor Ross didn’t find unanimous support for the agenda item he requested for the Jan. 17 agenda as the council seemed divided in discussions that will continue at the next meeting.

City Councilman Chad Williams didn’t show support for more restrictive public comment rules, and spoke in opposition of the standing restrictions.

If there’s no public hearing on an agenda item then the public isn’t allowed to comment on the subject under the current rule, explained Williams.

“This particular resolution isn’t a public hearing so there’s no public comment allowed about this resolution,” said Williams. “This doesn’t make any sense.”
Some city officials say public comments aren’t required at these meetings, and the proposed rule change has been inspired by recent changes in other cities to limit detractors.

Last month Midwest City moved to make a rule change, like the one Choctaw is contemplating, after a six-hour meeting related to the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council.

The only long-time members of Choctaw City Council in attendance, mayor Ross and City Councilman Steve Krieske, referenced past meetings when protestors held up city business for hours.

Two recent periods when Choctaw City Council meetings were taken up by vocal protestors was when the Kickapoo Turnpike was announced and when COVID-19 regulations were being discussed.

“We had protestors from everywhere when there was a turnpike being built that didn’t even touch our city limits,” said Ross. “Then we moved to the mask debate.”
Krieske agreed aggressive outside voices had previously taken up time and energy of Choctaw officials meant for residents of the city.

“During the turnpike discussions we had folks come in from all different directions, and they were nothing but divisive,” said Krieske. “They have a voice, but it’s in their own town’s city council meetings.”

City Councilwoman Donna Morris joined Williams in opposition.

“I honestly don’t see a precedent for this. To be clear, we’ve never discussed this as a council. This was brought up to be put on the agenda as a discussion item at our last meeting. I think we need more discussion on this subject,” said Morris. “The turnpike and the pandemic are extreme examples. I think it’s important to hear from the public, and I believe our three-minute rule will suffice.”

Williams moved to table any action until the first meeting of February.

Councilman Brent Pendergraft seconded the motion, and no one opposed meaning the discussion and any possible action will continue Feb. 7 at Choctaw City Hall.


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