Limiting Public Input – Tonight’s SF City Council meeting

Make no mistake, Item #29 on the city council agenda tonight will be contentious and there will be public input, I suspect quite a bit. I won’t speculate how city councilors will vote on the issue, and many of them are still saying they are undecided (ahem).

I will say this, after being CENSORSED by then council chair, Erpenbach and mayor Huether during the snowgate vote debate and discussion at the council meeting, I will put a word of warning to the council and mayor; city ordinance is clear when it comes to public input, 5 minutes, per person, per agenda item. You MUST allow BOTH sides of the Walmart zoning issue to speak tonight and express their feelings, opinions and arguements. This is much too important of an issue to limit (CENSOR) to 20 minutes. The testimony tonight MUST be on the public record, this is much more important then swaying councilors’ votes (most of them have probably already made up their minds) this is more about educating the public about both sides of the issue.

Even if the council approves the zoning tonight, the most important thing we should take from tonight’s meeting is freedom of speech, 1st Amendment rights and the public’s right to input. I hope and even pray that the council and mayor have learned something from the snowgate censorship fest.

People are watching. Follow your own laws and allow public testimony to last until each and every person has had the chance to speak their peace. This is a democracy, and the democratic process, not a Kangaroo court.


Tonight at Carnegie Hall the Sioux Falls City Council will be voting on the request to rezone just under 40 acres of farm-land from AG to C-4 commercial.  We need to pack the room this evening and have a large showing of support for our position.  We have folks ready to speak on our behalf concerning various topics and we remain hopeful that the city council will rule in favor of protecting the rights of its citizens over the economic desires of the world’s largest big-box retailer.  Please pass this message along to anyone you know who supports our efforts.  We hope to see you there and thank you for all you are doing, have done, and will continue to do to make Sioux Falls such a great city to call home.   Remember, common sense is on our side!


#1 Craig on 08.06.13 at 11:34 am

So you are suggesting that if there are 120 people who wish to speak on behalf of Walmart, and 120 people who wish to speak on behalf of SON (if they could find that many), then we should give each of those 240 people 5 minutes each for a total of 1200 minutes (20 hours) or public testimony?

Here is something that I find rather annoying about this blog L3wis. When an issue is discussed and explained (such as the five minutes per person issue) you always tend to ignore it and go right back to the misguided opinion you began with. Once again we need to point out that the city ordinance offers five minutes per person, but it does NOT mandate that the city listens to every single resident who wishes to speak about the issue. The city council has every legal right to limit testimony to a specific time period. Whether that is 20 minutes or 2 hours doesn’t really matter – they are not violating any law nor are they violating your civil rights.

Even if you simply allowed only a more reasonable 20 citizens to speak on behalf of Walmart, and 20 citizens to speak on behalf of SON you would still end up with 200 minutes of public testimony on one single issue. Do you honestly feel there is something that would be not be said after the first hour that in some way would necessitate another 2 hours and 20 minutes of testimony?

I think you are rather naive if you feel the city council isn’t already well versed on the issue. The public testimony isn’t going to tell them anything they don’t already know, and for all intents and purposes it is just a way for people to attempt to make it seem like their side has more support than it really does. For example, we know aside from some developers or city engineers there won’t be many people who would bother to get up in front of the city council and spend their five minutes supporting Walmart. Yet we can be assured all 11 members of SON will most likely attend, and they may have even convinced a few of their neighbors or other local anti-Walmart people to attend. Thus at face value they will make it seem that the majority is behind them when that couldn’t be further from the truth.

So what will 3, 5, or 20 more hours of testimony do that 40 minutes would not?

#2 Detroit Lewis on 08.06.13 at 11:44 am

First off, I do agree with the council on one thing about public input, no redundancy. If a citizen goes up and talks about, let’s say the landscaping, 5 other shouldn’t be allowed to talk about the same point. The SON group is very educated, and I would suspect organized, I suspect they will keep it pretty brief and to the point.

The mayor can say whatever he wants about the snowgate discussion, but we were censored. Many of us had other points to make about the ELECTION and they prevented that. All I ask is that they use common sense and not put a time limit on the discussion, it only aggravates citizens and yes violates their 1st Amendment rights.

#3 Craig on 08.06.13 at 12:22 pm

Again you appear to be misunderstanding the 1st Amendment. It does not give citizens the unlimited right to offer their voice at any time or place without interruption or restriction. What it mandates is that Congress will not make any laws which abridges freedom of speech.

A city can place limitations on such speech including the time and place when and where it is allowed provided those limitations are content neutral.

This means the city council cannot allow one side to testify on an issue for two hours and then refuse to hear anything from the other side, but it also means when they open up an issue to public testimony if that testimony happens to be 80% in favor of an issue and only 20% against an issue they are not in violation since such testimony is neutral from the onset (in many cases when the public is invited, the ruling body would have no idea whether a citizen is for or against an issue until their testimony begins).

In theory, the city could even limit testimony only to those who have a direct stake on a particular issue being discussed provided they don’t control the message from those people (again – remain neutral).

So no L3wis… limiting the amount of public testimony – even if that limitation is based upon an arbitrary time limit – in no way violates their 1st Amendment rights. To make that statement is simply flat out incorrect.

You might actually want to read this:

#4 rufusx on 08.06.13 at 12:26 pm

Limiting time for public testimony is NOT a violation of the 1st amendment.

Prohibiting ANY speech about the topic in ANY venue would be.

For example – if this blog were to be shut down over the issue – THAT would be a violation of the 1st amendment. Prohibiting people from standing on thje sidewalk outside the Carnegie and speaking to the issue would be.

“Rights” – contrary to libertarian/John Bircher BS – are NOT unlimited – or unlimitable. Even the language of the D of I says rights are “inalienable” (cannot be ENTIRELY removed); not “unlimited” or unrestricted.

#5 Detroit Lewis on 08.06.13 at 12:31 pm

“A city can place limitations on such speech including the time and place when and where it is allowed provided those limitations are content neutral. ”

Which they have done with the 5 minute rule. All I have ever asked them to do is follow their own rules, which they did not during the snowgate debate. If a city has an ordinance (that is well within the 1st amendment rights) they should follow it, or change it. Let me be clear, they must adhere to the laws THEY created, that is all I am asking.

#6 hornguy on 08.06.13 at 12:58 pm

As someone who used to clerk a legislative committee at the state level (and therefore had to sit through lots of public testimony of varying quality), I’m sensitive to both sides of this argument.

I would point out that typically, setting an aggregate limit for discussion is different from setting a limit on the length of time for which any one individual may speak. That said, I can’t access city ordinances because I’m out of the country and I’ve noticed that the city website is apparently not accessible from where I am. Go figure. *shakes fist at MMM*

If the city council has a rule and that rule explicitly prevents councilors from limiting debate on an issue, they should follow the rule or change the rule. Pretending the rule doesn’t exist is BS.

That said, I’m not a fan of public comment at legislative meetings. We don’t allow it at the state level – I can’t think of a state that does. We don’t allow it at the federal level. Further, everything said at a meeting of a legislative body (when it’s almost always too late to matter) is something that would be more timely if addressed during the committee process or if shared via email/phone with councilors. Any councilor that tells you they’re going into tonight’s meeting undecided is full of crap. This whole meeting is just a dog & pony show.

But I do agree with DL that the SON group will probably have its ducks in a row for tonight. I’ll give them a world of credit on that end. I don’t agree with them, I think their displaced rage towards Shape Places is way off base, and I think in terms of a public presence they’ve been all over the map with their arguments, but in their council appearances they’ve acquitted themselves extremely well. They manage their time well, they avoid redundancy, and they’ve been incredibly civil.

#7 Lamb Chislic on 08.06.13 at 1:32 pm

Any reporter that refers to Diamond Jim as “Council Chairperson James Entenman” hasn’t a clue as to what they are reporting.

And why do they keep ignoring the NW Wal-Mart? I see that’s already item 5 on tomorrow night’s Planning Commission agenda:

So don’t let Wal-Mart get away with saying they can’t build one without the other. It’s already underway.

#8 Detroit Lewis on 08.06.13 at 1:49 pm

LC – I found the timing of the PC meeting agenda item ‘Interesting’. I thought that store has already been approved. Funny how they just kinda let that one ‘float’ until they find out the outcome of tonight. I would have thought they would have already broken ground on that place, WM keeps saying they need to ‘relieve’ pressure off of their Louise store, you would think this place would have been built already, things that make you go . . . hmmm.

BTW, Diamond Jim is the council chair now, he got elected a while back, unless I am missing some sarcasm 🙂

#9 Scott on 08.06.13 at 2:28 pm

I also have mixed feelings about the need for every single person to get their five minute of city council fame. BUT I do have issues with how this legislative body picks and chooses public input. For the snowgates, they clearly had no room to listen to anybody in favor of them. Yet, during the dog and pony show for the event center, they had ever single person who wanted to kiss the ring of our Lord Mayor get their time in the spotlight, concluding with that embarrassing speech written by his daughter. It went on forever!

#10 Lamb Chislic on 08.06.13 at 3:12 pm

DL – You indeed missed my sarcasm. Nobody, including his own mom, calls him “James”.

#11 l3wis on 08.06.13 at 3:51 pm

Exactly Scott. Just follow your own rules, that is all I ask, no special treatment depending on the topic. To be quite honest with you, no one who is on either side of the debate should be able to testify unless they are a resident of our city. Our council represents constituents, not corporate interests from Arkansas.

#12 rufusx on 08.06.13 at 4:12 pm

So DL – you’re now for denying property owners their “property rights” based on where they get their mail?

Can you say – INCONSISTENT?

#13 Craig on 08.06.13 at 5:25 pm

“no one who is on either side of the debate should be able to testify unless they are a resident of our city.”

You can’t be serious. Might want to think this one through there buddy.

#14 Justin on 08.06.13 at 7:18 pm

“Remember, common sense is on our side.”

Common sense left the building when you built your house on 85th St.

#15 Detroit Lewis on 08.06.13 at 11:11 pm

I have thought it thru, got a chuckle out of the piss-poor recruits WM drug in tonight with SF license plates. Share holders in WM don’t vote for SF council members, yet the people who work, pay taxes, own property in our community do. Look like some peeps will be losing votes tonight in the next election.

#16 Craig on 08.07.13 at 8:46 am

I have a feeling it is Jamison who will feel the brunt of this vote in the next election. We may not be fans of Walmart, but look around… most of your neighbors shop there on a weekly basis. If you remove the bottom three blocks of Twin Eagle from consideration and poll the rest of the city you find overwhelming support for Walmart. Even when SON tried to garner support to skew the poll at the Argus it still was overwhelming in support of the new store.

Plus – and I know SON hates to admit this – but even some of their own neighbors support Walmart at that location. I happen to know people in the neighborhood, and less than two blocks North of one of the most vocal SON members there are two families who are in full support. The fact SON could only manage to find 11 names (including three married couples) to sign on to their suit should tell us how hard it will be to sway public opinion.

Of course they have options – they can collect signatures and force it to a public vote. I have no doubt they could collect enough signatures – people will sign almost anything if you put a clipboard in front of them and smile, but will the vote go their way? Not a chance. Plus each time they present the image that they know better than the city and that the rules shouldn’t apply to them, the more people will vote against them out of spite.

They may be successful in delaying the project however – and if we’re honest I think that is the goal. We can expect at least one more lawsuit being filed and they will likely try to bring the issue to a public vote. I also expect they will collect signatures to bring the issue back to the City Council for a second vote. Although the outcome will remain the same, it will once again delay the process – and again that appears to be their gameplan.

#17 Detroit Lewis on 08.07.13 at 3:19 pm

“most of your neighbors shop there on a weekly basis.”

and I can guarantee, they don’t visit the polls much.

#18 Craig on 08.08.13 at 8:47 am

That may be valid, but we all know the Matlock-loving, Ensure-drinking crowd loves to vote, and the only thing they love more than voting is Walmart.

I still expect SON to gather signatures in an effort to slow down the process, but when it comes time to actually vote, I’d be shocked if it was less than 70% in support of Walmart.

There are a lot of anti-Walmart people around these days, but they are a mere fraction of those who actually shop at Walmart on a regular basis.

Maybe another legal challenge is SON’s best bet, because I don’t see a public vote going their way…. especially considering public opinion seems to be displaying an increasing amount of frustration and bitterness towards SON.

#19 Detroit Lewis on 08.08.13 at 3:16 pm

It really isn’t about WM it is about listening to constituents NOT corporate interests.

#20 Craig on 08.09.13 at 9:01 am

I don’t disagree with that – but if you based the issue upon constituents opinions, you would be left with a Walmart at 85th and Cliff. Support for the store is significant.

SON has done a good job of making this into a David vs. Goliath type of battle, but unfortunately for them they appear to have lost their slingshot.

Leave a Comment