City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

March 5, 2013
Could longer speaker times help end the craziness at council meetings?

There are times when City Council meetings resemble bad open mic nights. There's one guy who comes every week to accuse the council of "pimping the people." Another guy has a tradition of pointing out the best houses in Oak Park to find drugs and prostitutes. Someone once angrily threw a wallet at the mayor.

Now, a local watchdog group says it has a solution that will increase the quality of the discourse Tuesday nights at City Hall: give the audience a little more time in the spotlight.

Eye on Sacramento has asked the City Council to increase the amount of time speakers from the public are given to address the council. One of Mayor Kevin Johnson's first acts when he was elected in 2008 was to cut those time slots to two minutes from three. Eye on Sacramento thinks the three-minute allotment - which they said "was in place for several decades" before Johnson took over - is better.

"We have observed that the quality of the public comments that you receive has demonstrably eroded since the adoption of the two-minute rule as it does not provide enough time for concerned speakers to coherently articulate their thoughts on matters of importance to them and the City," the group's president, Craig Powell, wrote in a letter to the mayor and council.

Powell's group has done some serious research on this matter.

They say granting speakers three minutes instead of two will increase the average council meeting by 21 minutes, or 13 percent. Under Johnson's reign, the average meeting has lasted 2 hours and 41 minutes. With Mayor Heather Fargo running things during the previous four years, the average meeting lasted 5 hours and 24 minutes.

The group also notes that Sacramento and Oakland are the only cities in the state of around this size that limit speakers to less than three minutes.

This request will not be ignored. The council is expected to vote in the coming weeks on a new set of rules and procedures, including whether to give the audience a little more time to make their points.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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