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Lockport Council due to discuss a time limit on public comment

The incoming Lockport Common Council is expected to discuss placing a time limit on public comment at Council meetings.

The change could come as soon as Jan. 4, when the newly elected Council must readopt the meeting rules.

Council President Richelle J. Pasceri, R-1st Ward, said last week that the notion of time limits was raised after one of this fall's marathon meetings.

It was long not because of the agenda but because of the speeches made during the comment periods.

Pasceri said, "Seventy-four minutes for five speakers was a bit excessive."

The talk was triggered in part by the election campaign -- some of the speakers were candidates taking advantage of free coverage on cable TV -- and by hot issues, such as the new garbage system.

"I'm hearing this from people in the community, that it's gotten out of hand," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said.

"I think that's a great idea," Alderwoman-elect Kathryn J. "Kitty" Fogle, R-3rd Ward, exclaimed when the notion of a time limit was raised.

There is no law requiring comment periods at any public meeting; state law ensures only the right to watch the meetings.

The Council has two comment periods, both with no time limits: one at the start of the meeting on agenda items, and one after adjournment "for the betterment of our city," as Tucker says when announcing it.

"A lot of them don't tell us what's good for the city. They just have a running conversation with the mayor," said Alderman Joseph C. Kibler, R-at large. "Say it and get done."

"I think it's just like the county, trying to limit contact with the public," said George Kugler of Gaffney Road, who has probably spent more time at the microphone than anyone else in recent years.

The Niagara County Legislature offers two comment periods. The first, on agenda items, limits speakers to three minutes each, while the general comment period at the end of the meeting is unlimited.

However, Legislature meetings tend to last two or three hours, so by the time they end, most of the audience regulars have gone home.

Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick, R-5th Ward, said the filibusters might have discouraged people who wanted to speak from coming to City Hall and waiting their turn.

"If there's some kind of limit, it might encourage more people to speak," Genewick said.

"It's not a decision that can be taken lightly, because you don't want to stifle people's voices," Pasceri said.

Lockport Town Board meetings have one comment period at the start of the meeting on anything affecting the town. Speakers may take five minutes each.

"I'm not averse to five or 10 minutes," said Alderman-elect Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward. "Three is kind of short."

One of the speakers most tiresome to the aldermen is Kugler, who frequently gets up at the start of the meeting and goes over almost every agenda item.

Asked about a time limit, Kugler said, "If they put a whole lot of different things on the agenda, how are you going to address them all?"

"I don't think he's got the right to go over every resolution," Kibler said.

"If they can't afford to spend half an hour listening to the people, that shows a lot about their character," Kugler said.