Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

New speaking limits in place for Austin City Council

Alexa Zimmermann

Austin City Council approved a new public comment ordinance giving individuals at least two minutes of speaking time per item on May 30. 

Under the new ordinance, people who sign up to speak at city council meetings will get at least two minutes per item with no limit on the number of items they can speak on. 

“To ensure the efficient operation of meetings, speaking time will be adjusted based on the number of agenda items and the number of people who have signed up to speak, but in no instance will the time be less than two minutes,” a spokesperson for the city said in an email.

The new ordinance comes after a lawsuit was brought forward by Bill Bunch, the executive director of Save Our Springs Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the natural environment of Central Texas. Bunch sued the council after he was cut off by Mayor Kirk Watson during public comment at a meeting. 

“I was aware that this council was violating the law with (Mayor Watson) presiding and limiting people speaking to the city council by setting this strict two-minute limit, no matter how many different city council meeting agenda items you signed up to speak on,” Bunch said. “I confronted the mayor because (the Alliance) had multiple items we were very concerned about on that agenda, and he refused. I told him we’d sue him and we did, and two different Travis County district judges agreed with us.” 

The two judges placed a temporary restraining order on the City of Austin that required the city council to give every speaker three minutes per item. 

Brian Pena, the president of UT’s University Democrats said he’s spoken at least a dozen times in city council meetings. He said the organization is against the new ordinance because it is inefficient and overly time-consuming compared to the previous two-minute allotment. 

“The most recent meeting I was at, we were there till 1:30 in the morning, starting at 8 a.m.,” said Pena, a senior accounting student. “(The new ordinance) is just not practical and it came to the point where it was the same people speaking … (and) repeating themselves.” 

Bunch said he is headed back to court on July 1 to discuss lingering key issues, including making the ordinance obligatory. He said active public participation is fundamental for functional democracy. 

“Democracy is a contact sport; participation counts,” Bunch said. “It’s virtually impossible for most people to go around and try to meet with council members or talk to them separately, and the city council meeting is where you have the opportunity to speak to all of them and also be heard by the rest of the community so that you’re adding to public consideration and education on important issues.” 

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