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Portage council votes to hold public hearing on adding public comment
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Portage council votes to hold public hearing on adding public comment

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Portage Common Council will have a public hearing on Oct. 14 to hear opinions and ideas on how to add a standing agenda to the common council meetings.

Over a dozen residents sat through the entire Portage Common Council meeting Thursday night and waited for Alderperson Eric Shimpach to make his motion.

Shimpach’s motion was to suspend all rules and have a one-time public hearing on the possibility of adding public comment to the meeting,

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Shimpach made a similar plea at the last common council meeting on Sept. 9. He made a motion to suspend rules and add a standing agenda item for public comment. The motion failed and Shimpach returned on Thursday night with a new motion.

“With over a dozen people here I think it’s important we let them speak on this issue,” Shimpach said.

The council discussed the parameters of the public hearing. Mayor Rick Dodd pointed out there are rules already in place for public hearings, those include a three minute time limit per speaker and that the council cannot directly respond to resident comments.

Alderperson Dennis Nachreiner was cautious about having public comment due to the potential for personal attacks.

“I don’t want to see personal attacks on city employees,” Nachreiner said. “Elected officials are different, but this public hearing should be limited to ideas on public comment.”

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Shimpach’s motion passed 6-2 with opposing votes coming from Alderpersons Jeff Monfort and Allan Radant.

Monfort said residents and concerned citizens should go through the proper channels. He turned to the crowd in the council chambers.

“Why now?” Monfort asked. “Are we going allow people to speak unchecked? It is best to go through the correct procedures.”

Monfort and Radant both said residents are encouraged to speak with their alderperson and at the committee level.

“The way it works is you contact your alderperson and we take it to committee,” Monfort said. “That is how it is done in local government. We want to hear from your but in the correct forum.”

Alderperson Mike Charles said the issue will go to the Legislative and Regulatory committee after the Oct. 14 meeting. He suggested a committee of the whole meeting to take place to discuss the topic.

City Attorney Jessie Spankowski said the council doesn’t have anything in place to hold a committee of the whole meeting. He said it is likely that the subject of public comment could go back and forth from committee to council.

That meeting would go over the parameters for public comment. Alderperson Chris Crawley asked if it was possible to put a 30-minute time limit on public comment so the item doesn’t last 2 hours.

Spankowski said those parameters and others can be put in place.

“If it’s not broken why fix it,” Monfort said in regard to the committee/council structure Portage has. “If you think it’s broken, you’ve missed steps in the process. I think this is a poor issue to pursue. I don’t think it’s needed.”

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