Mar 13, 2024 - News

Richmond City Council changes rules for public comments at meetings

Illustration of Richmond City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

City Council approved changes to its Rules of Procedure this week, including to how it handles public comments.

Why it matters: Among the changes now in effect, people who want to speak at council must provide in advance a "detailed and complete" description of their topic that makes it clear which city agency the comments are in reference to.

The big picture: The changes have been in the works for nearly a year. They were ones identified by newish City Attorney Laura Drewry as ways to streamline meetings, per the Times-Dispatch.

Yes, but: Some pro-Palestine protesters have argued the changes are meant to silence their repeated appeals for the council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the Times-Dispatch reports.

Inside the room: Since early January, dozens of protesters have crowded the biweekly meetings to call for Richmond to join the growing list of U.S. cities calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

  • In response, pro-Israel protesters have turned out to ask the council not to pass the resolution.
  • In recent weeks, as many as seven of the eight public comment slots allotted for each meeting have been filled by folks who want to speak about the Israel-Hamas war, on either side, according to an Axios review of the biweekly council speaker lists.
  • The growing conflict inside the chamber has resulted in the council having to stop meetings numerous times to ask attendees to settle down, per RTD.

Zoom in: Among the other changes now in effect:

  • "Citizen" comment is now called "public" comment.
  • People who register to speak and no-show without canceling their slot by noon on the meeting day will be banned from public comment for 90 days.
  • Signs are prohibited on walls and doors of city chambers, and ones brought by attendees cannot be larger than 14x11 inches.
  • Standing committee meetings can be canceled if nothing is on the agenda.
  • Presentations of awards and proclamations are now capped at three per meeting.
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