City sets comment time limit

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council has set a time limit on public comments at its meetings, following what Mayor Kim Carter said had been abuse of the privilege to speak before the council in recent weeks.

The council agreed Monday night to limit public comments to five minutes per individual or 10 minutes per group per issue for items that are not on the agenda.

"This came up, and it happened again tonight, where our meeting gets derailed by very lengthy comments," Carter said, adding that the council had agreed to come up with a policy regulating time limits.

The council agreed to purchase a time-keeping device to make sure speakers stay within the established limits.

Councilman Keith Dalton originally recommended comments be limited to three minutes per individual and six minutes for a group, but agreed with the council's decision to extend that a bit.

"You've got to limit it. If you don't, you'll be here til midnight," Dalton said.

Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams emphasized that the council must be fair to everyone and not show favoritism.

"Certain people are allowed additional time because we know them and like them, they have a certain position in the community, and we let them go on and on ... We're not as fair to people we don't know. They get less time. We've got to be fair to everybody," Williams said.

Later, Carter said the council tries to be fair and open for all residents, noting there are two public comments sections for each meeting.

"I assure you I will do my very best and I'm sure the council will, too, to be fair to every person that comes before this council," she said.

The council agreed that discussion of items that are on the meeting agenda will not be limited.

Councilwoman Janet Goodman questioned if residents outside the city limits should be allowed to talk. The council agreed that anyone has the right to come before them, noting that just because a resident doesn't live within the city, he or she may be a utility customer or do business inside the city.

"I think anybody that comes into Covington and does business here has a right to voice an opinion," said Councilman Chris Smith.

There have been several lengthy public comment sections the last few council meetings, running the better part of an hour and mainly revolving around utility rates. In addition, at a recent meeting, one resident took up about 20 minutes making numerous allegations that city officials called irresponsible and untrue.

The council voted 3 to 2 to approve the time limits with Williams and Councilwoman Ocie Franklin opposed.