Tips for Public Comment at City Council Meetings

I’ve been asked more than a few times: “Do you have any tips for going in front of the City Council for public comment?” So I figured I’d write up a post about it.

There are actually two opportunities to speak at any City Council meeting:

  1. During 2nd reading ordinances.
  2. At the end of the meeting.

Let’s go over some key rules / tips for each type of comment.

Comments During 2nd Reading Ordinance

The 2nd reading ordinances are posted in each agenda packet which you can find on the city website here. For example, the May 6th agenda is posted on the “Council Agendas, Minutes, & Ordinances” page and it lists all the 2nd readings:

  • 19-037 – an easement related ordinance in the Powerhouse Arts District in DTJC
  • 19-038 – repealing an ordinance that restricted certain businesses in certain development areas (this may be the repeal of the chain store rule)
  • 19-039 – lease agreement related to parking on 2800 block of JFK Boulevard
  • 19-040 – lease agreement related to parking at 800 Pavonia Ave
  • 19-041 – something related to angled parking near Winfield/Garfield/Princeton Ave
  • 19-042 – traffic intersection stop signage at Clerk & Forrest Streets
  • 19-043 – conveyance of land from City to Urban League of Hudson County
  • 19-044 – ordinance related to Rent Control
  • 19-045 – ordinance related to short term rentals (this may be the Air B & B ordinance)
  • 19-046 – zoning amendments to block in Morris Canal area

Additionally…2nd reading ordinances are included in their own separate packet which is hundreds of pages long, because each ordinance contains the ordinance (the legal language that will be voted on by Council) plus supporting detail that is part of the public record.

You can speak on ANY 2nd reading ordinance and you do NOT need to sign up in advance to do so. The Council moves through each agenda item, votes to open it up for public comment, the public can then get on line and comment. There is no time limit on this part of the agenda. But, note that the City Clerk will make sure you stay on topic. The City Council President will too.

Open Public Comment at End of Meeting

After all 2nd reading ordinances are voted on, the council then opens the floor up for public comment. It’s at this point that the City Clerk calls out names of individuals who called up in advance to speak. A few logistical notes here:

  • You are timed to 5 minutes. The clock is to your right, a big display like you’d see at a basketball game.
  • You can speak to any topic you want. This is your time to address the council and raise concerns that may not be on the agenda.
  • The City Clerk will confirm your name and maybe your spelling, and will answer any questions you may have around process.

1st vs. 2nd Reading: What’s the Difference?

You’ll see in the agenda that there are both “1st readings” and “2nd readings”. First readings are ordinances being introduced into the public record. After being introduced, the Council can, two weeks later, ratify the ordinance via 2nd reading. There is typically no public comment during 1st reading.

I hope this helps!