NEWPORT — During its regular meeting Monday, the Newport City Council approved changes to its rules of order, including some that affect public participation.
Most of the changes to the council rules, first discussed during a work session in August, were made to reflect current virtual meeting practices and times, while two amendments concern the manner and form in which members of the public can offer input, and a newly added section outlines how the council undertakes “quasi-judicial decisions” — matters such as a request for a road vacation or an appeal of a council vote that concern a particular person or instance, rather than the city as a whole.
Previously, there was no limitation on the number of times a person could place a particular topic on the council’s regular meeting agenda. In response to multiple instances in which people added the same topic for several successive meetings, councilors on Monday approved a limitation that “a citizen may request a topic be placed on the agenda once annually.” The deadline for agenda item submission remains the same, 5 p.m. the Tuesday prior to the meeting.
City Manager Spencer Nebel told the News-Times, “Our guidelines for placing items on the agenda are still pretty permissive compared to other local units of government, besides the other opportunities people have during the public comment period before and after the regular agenda is taken care of.”
Councilors on Monday also added a rule for the reading aloud of letters during council meetings, which reflects its rules for in-person public comment. Members of the public are permitted three minutes each to offer verbal comment on any topic, with a total of 15 minutes allotted at the beginning and end of meetings, and a rule adopted Monday applies the same limitation to written submissions. The full text of letters will still be published in the council packets — requests that they be read aloud will honored up to three minutes in duration.
The draft rule revision before council Monday said written comments would not be read aloud, but councilors agreed the potential impact of audible presentation was too important to exclude entirely. The most recently posted revisions, available here tinyurl.com/yxo36vgo, do not reflect this change.
The new rules for quasi-judicial decisions are a first for the city. “We had really no written processes for quasi-judicial proceedings. This came to light when we had an appeal of the decision regarding Rogue,” Nebel said, referring to the council’s ruling on how much in back transient rooms taxes to charge Rogue Ales for its operation of three unlicensed vacation rentals on the Bayfront. “We developed a working process for that particular hearing, and what the council and City Attorney David Allen wanted to do was to have a process in place so that if that happens in the future, we can provide that to the people making the appeal and also make it clear to the city council what their obligations are.”
Outlined in the new rules is a process for challenging a council member’s participation, the requirement, per state law, for declaring a conflict of interest, a prohibition on ex parte contacts, the allowance for a continuance and a procedure for the hearing itself.