Port retools policy for public comment

Port of Tacoma commissioners yesterday adopted a resolution designed to formalize public comment procedures during commission meetings, and increase the exchange of public information between citizens and the port.
“Frankly, I’m excited about this,” said Port Commissioner Connie Bacon. “The more input and ideas, the better the product.”
Resolution 2008-2, known as the Citizen Presentation Guidelines, provides standard sign-in procedures for testimony and establishes a consistent time frame for citizens and organizations during public comment periods. Other highlights include:
— Anyone wishing to speak at a commission meeting will need to register on a sign-up sheet.
— The commission president will ask for public comment prior to the Commission vote on each “action item” on the agenda. On “non-action” agenda items listed under General Business or for study session presentations, public comments may be offered at the discretion of the president and at the conclusion of the meeting during the general public comment period.
— An individual may testify on an agenda item for up to three minutes. Organization representatives may testify for up to five minutes.
— Any person wishing to speak on a topic not appearing on an agenda may sign up to speak at the conclusion of the meeting under “Public Comments.”
— The commission chair may limit the number of persons speaking on any topic or may limit testimony to those having new information or new material to present.
— The commission chair may alter the time allotments for testimony to ensure that more speakers have an opportunity to be heard in a reasonable amount of time.
— The identity of each person testifying will be noted in the meeting minutes. An individual or organization representative may also have the text of their remarks appended to the commission minutes by submitting a written text at or before the meeting.
— All testimony is digitally audio recorded. Digital audio recordings are retained in port files for a period of six years and are available upon written request for transcription or duplication during their respective six-year retention period. A charge will be assessed for digital audio recording transcription or duplication.
— Comments by the public during a commission meeting will be offered only at the microphone to ensure the testimony can be heard in the room and for broadcast/audio recording purposes.
According to port spokesman Mike Wasem, the move is part of a larger effort to standardize processes and make commission activities more visible to the public. The port recently shifted its commission meeting time from 4:00 p.m. to noon to see if it would increase attendance.
“We have more people attending our meetings, and much more public comment than in the past,” said Wasem. “We want to make sure we are handling that public comment in a very respectful and consistent manner. We’re encouraging it.”
Wasem added that commission meetings have historically followed an informal, “Roberts Rules of Order” flow. These efforts attempt to codify the port’s processes so they are known to the public, and there is consistency, he said.
In December, commissioners approved a contract with software company Granicus, Inc., which will provide technology to begin broadcasting commission meetings live via the Port’s Web site. That service is expected to begin in March. The Port will also digitally archive those meetings, and even link pertinent video to specific agenda items, similar to services offered by the City of Olympia and the Port of Long Beach.
Yesterday’s vote follows the formation last August of a grassroots, citizen-led organization called Friends of the Port, which tracks port activities and meetings.
“This is a beginning for the public to converse with the commission,” said Ronnie Bush, a member of Friends of the Port. “I hope the port continues to work on making this a good fit. It’s a good start.”