By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) A regular speaker during public comment period at Denver City Council meetings assailed two members of the dais Jan. 23 for skipping out.
Robert Bailey noted that Jolon Clark was not present for the public comment session. He wondered if he had “Herndon’s Disease,” referencing councilmember Chris Herndon. “This is a particular disorder where you stop caring about the general public and you prove this by not showing up.” The crowd erupted in laughter.
Bailey was thrown out by Council President Jamie Torres later in the meeting after a short outburst during a public hearing on Park Hill Golf Course.
Jolon Clark defends his record
Clark said Friday he has one of the best attendance records on the council. “To my knowledge, I have missed one public comment session ever (other than days where I was out of town or unable to make the entire City Council meeting) and that was this week,” he explained. “I have endeavored to be present as much as possible, and I think I have one of the best attendance records at public comment of anyone on the Council.”
Herndon did not respond to an email sent Friday morning seeking comment. This story will be updated upon hearing back from him.
Regular speakers at public comment period have criticized council members before for sitting out the public comment session. At some meetings, there have been several empty seats on the dais during public comment period.
Council attendance not required at public comment session
Robert Austin, a spokesperson for the City Council, said attendance is not kept or required of council members during public comment period. ”General public comment is a long-honored tradition and can have value to members,” Austin said. “One of our longer-term goals is to increase and diversify the voices heard at general public comment and I hope to be able to share more about that effort soon.”
The council modified the rules for public comment last year but nothing has changed. The council gives priority to people who haven’t spoken before. Next priority goes to those that haven’t spoken in more than 30 days. Finally, regular commenters who speak weekly get final priority.
Many repeat speakers most weeks
But in reality, many of the same people still speak every week. Public comment increasingly draws people experiencing homelessness. Several new faces have shared their stories with the council.
There also are two formerly homeless residents who comment most every week. They criticize the city for its response to homelessness, such as encampment sweeps.
Besides people experiencing homelessness, public comment attracts people who despise homeless encampments. Both sides argue passionately for the city to do something.
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