July 1 2009 12:00 AM

Another attempt to keep order at Lansing City Council meetings

Every few years, it seems, a brave (or foolish, depending on how you look at it) member of Lansing City Council will attempt to change the Council’s rules to discourage the antics of the so-called “regulars” who dominate public comment at Council meetings.

Now, after months of police officers escorting boisterous regulars from chambers, name calling from the audience at members of Council and concerns over the escalating outbursts, comes another effort to change how public comment is run.

This time, the proposed changes involve shifting public comment on city government-related matters (which generally includes anything the speaker wishes to say) to the end of the Council meetings, after the mayor’s second round of comments, and to have the cameras turned off. Public comment on legislative matters (meaning comment only on agenda items and public hearings) would remain televised at the beginning of the meetings.

City Attorney Brig Smith is drafting the new rules in conjunction with input from the General Services Committee, composed of Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Kaltenbach, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney. The committee is expected to vote on the changes at its next meeting.

Both Quinney and Kaltenbach support the changes, and those two votes are all it takes to get the measures out of committee.

"We need to conduct official city business expeditiously," Kaltenbach said. He also believes that having an "off-camera" portion of public comment would help camera-shy residents feel more comfortable, which would increase accessibility. Moving the more general comments to the end of the meeting, he said, would also permit residents to comment on what happens at the meeting and what action Council takes, rather than demanding a certain action and then leaving before the business portion of the meeting commences.

General Services was supposed to take up the new rules at its meeting last week, but Smith said that the group was “too tired” to do so. The committee will meet next on July 13.

As Council President, Quinney has had his own battles with the "regulars" and he says he isn’t backing down. He pointed to Monday night’s meeting as an example. Charlene Decker, a regular who recently had a scuffle with Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson where the Councilwoman tried to press charges, held up an "Anyone But Virg" sign from her seat in the audience, attempting to get it on camera. Willy Williams, a regular critic of the regulars, had brought his own, a modified Carol Wood campaign sign that read, "Elect Carol Nooo." Williams and Decker "leapfrogged" each other, trying to get in front of one another as others were speaking in order to get their respective signs on camera.

That led Quinney to declare a restriction on signs. He said the new rule is that each commenter can hold a sign during his portion of public comment, but then must put it away. He said the "jockeying" for position at the meeting was proof that the rules are needed.

"We’re adults here. We should be adults here," he clarified, calling the behavior over the past weeks "disgusting, childish and

Quinney observed that the more he attempts to bring
"decorum" through discipline to the meetings, the more his authority is
challenged. But rules are rules, and new rules may be on the horizon,
and Quinney won’t relax his stance to avoid conflict.

"They’re not going to win," he said.