One of the best ways you can get involved in local government is by attending a city council meeting. These meetings are public forums for officials to discuss new policies or larger issues facing a city. During these meetings, there is always time for citizens to discuss their concerns about a specific bill or issue. You address the council members directly to let them know your feelings.
While this is a great opportunity, there are key guidelines to be aware of regarding how to make public comments. It is important to do your research and arrive at the meeting adequately prepared. If you make a persuasive argument or bring up a good point, you could actually change the course of politics in your city.
Preparing to Speak at a City Council Meeting
Before you can attend and speak at a city council meeting, you need to know when they are held. The city government’s website should have a schedule for city council meetings, which are typically held twice each month on a particular day of the week. Make note of the day and time of the meetings, as well as the issues that are on the agenda for that particular day.
About a week before the meeting, City Hall should announce the topics that will be covered. You will often not be able to talk about any issues that are not already on the agenda, although some cities permit you to bring up anything related to the town. Check the topics as soon as they get posted to see if you would want to say anything and to give yourself time to do any necessary research into topics with which you are less familiar.
If you cannot find the day and time of meetings online, feel free to call the city government and ask. Someone will be able to help you will all the relevant information, including how to get to the meetings. In addition, these individuals should know the topics that are set to be covered as soon as they get announced. If they are not yet sure, they may know when the agenda gets set.
Choosing a Topic to Address Publicly at the Meeting
While anyone can speak at a city council meeting, you will make the biggest impact when you choose a topic that touches your life in some way. If your city allows you to make comments about any relevant topics, choose something that you consider important and be prepared to demonstrate why it is such an impactful issue.
Naturally, speaking from your own experience is the best approach, but think about how the issue you choose impacts the people around you. Avoid talking about historic topics and instead focus on current issues or legislation that is being discussed for the future.
Importantly, you need to focus on one topic and know exactly what you would like to say about it. Public comments usually have a time limit around the three-minute mark so that the council members can hear from multiple people. If you address more than one topic, you will not have enough time to delve deep into them.
Figure out the points you want to make and practice your comment so that you do not get distracted while you speak. Think about why the issue is so important and offer potential solutions for the problem. Always connect the issue back to quality of life for citizens.
Signing up to Speak at the City Council Meeting
The majority of city councils require people to sign up to speak and typically they must do so at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Research the rules in your city on the city’s government website or call for more information. Sometimes, you are able to sign up early through a digital format. If this is not possible, you should arrive to the meeting at least 30 minutes prior to its start to make sure you can get yourself on the list.
For the most part, city councils will defer your comment to the next meeting if you do not make the cutoff. Also, you will need to sign up yourself rather than having someone else do it. The city will likely verify your residence prior to accepting you as a speaker at the meeting.
When it is time for public comments, approach the microphone and speak when your name or number is called. If your city does not require you to sign up, you will likely need to stand in a line to get to the microphone. Wear a business casual outfit so that people take you seriously as you speak.
Also, you should know that city councils will sometimes cut off public comments before you have spoken, even if you have signed up beforehand, so be prepared for this possibility. As you begin, you will likely need to state your name and where you live prior to speaking. Sometimes, council members will address your comments immediately. However, the council may address everyone at once after everyone has spoken.