By Debra Smith Herald Writer
EVERETT — The City Council chambers aren’t going to be open for use by the public or other city departments.
Those who want to give the Everett City Council an earful get three minutes to do it — or less if the council president says so.
And people or organizations hoping to make a presentation to the council can, but they first must fill out an application and get approval.
Those are some of the guidelines approved unanimously by the council in an attempt to improve transparency, openness and accountability.
It also gives everybody a road map on what to expect at City Council meetings.
It’s the council’s second stab at a set of guidelines for its conduct — something most cities have but Everett didn’t until June 2010.
Council President Ron Gipson made it one of his priorities to revisit the guidelines this year.
“The main goal was to be transparent for everybody to see,” Gipson said after the measure was passed Aug. 8.
The happenings of the past year have left fingerprints on this latest version, hashed out over a series of weeks at council meetings.
The updated guidelines include a new section on public comments. It, in part, specifies that everyone gets three minutes to speak to the council — unless a lot of people show up. Then the council president has the discretion to limit everyone present to a shorter, equal amount of time.
In certain cases, the president also may allow speakers more time.
In the past year, some members of the council have been frustrated by a group of anti-fluoride activists who use their three minutes to talk about the same topic at multiple council meetings.
Also new is a section that is a commitment by the council to continue broadcasting its meetings on television and online, and to archive those meetings.
A few ideas got left on the cutting room floor. An early version allowed council members to attend meetings by telephone. That got clipped.
Also edited out was language that would have allowed the majority of the council to punish misbehaving members with “reprimand, censure and expulsion” from meetings.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said at one meeting she was concerned that provision “could be used as a weapon” to silence council members with dissenting views.
The council also decided to keep its “committee of the whole” structure, in which all the council’s work gets done together. In the past, a lot of the hard work got done in separate committees that were difficult for the public to attend and not well publicized.
Also edited out was language that explains how the council would go about setting up committees in the future.
The impetus for guidelines came mainly from Councilman Paul Roberts. When he served as council president, he recognized Everett was one of the few cities in the state without some kind of rules of conduct.
The matter later gained momentum after some embarrassing public missteps by the council, such as a surprise vote by some members in January 2010 to hold most meetings during the daytime.
That angered many in the community. Six months later, the council passed formal guidelines. They now hold most of their meetings at night.
The council plans to periodically take a look at the rules, Roberts said.
“This is a set of operating guidelines,” he said. “It tells the world how we are intending to operate.”