July 5, 2007

Managing public comments - human or machine?

In Alabama, the Baldwin County Commissioners are trying to decide whether to purchase a $2,783 machine called the Limitimer Pro 2000, in order to control their public comment period during meetings.

From the article in the Press-Register:

"The policy calls for public comments from individuals to be limited to five minutes, and three minutes per person for groups speaking on the same topic. In general, it is up to the commission's chairman, who changes every year, to enforce that policy."

Chairman Wayne Gruenloh finds it difficult to cut off a speaker in the midst of her/his comments, and has been known to let a speaker continue for over 20 minutes.

So is a timer necessary, or could the commissioners learn some skills and save themselves a few thousand dollars?

The chairperson is responsible for watching the clock, following the agenda, making sure meetings take place in an orderly and timely fashion, and ensuring that speakers respect everyone's time. Mr. Gruenloh might feel like a bad guy for interrupting speakers, but it's his job.

The chairman may consider using a hand signal to show the speaker that there are three minutes left and then one minute, or he may assign someone else at the meeting to do this. When time is up, the chairman may have to politely and tactfully interrupt the speaker and remind her to wrap it up.

The chair can say, "Excuse me, Ms. Jackson, please wrap up your remarks in the next 30 seconds." Or "Thank you for your comments, Ms. Jackson. Now we need to move on to the next speaker."

Yes, interrupting is awkward, but the speaker already knows there's a time limit, so the interruption is expected. And if a speaker is well-prepared before the meeting, she should be able to say what she needs to say in the allotted time.

If the speaker continues to talk, does not wrap up her remarks and blatantly disregards the chair, there's always the gavel.

It is not rude for the chair to do his job in keeping the meeting moving forward; however, it is rude and inconsiderate for a speaker to continue to talk and take up other speakers' time.

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Rowan Manahan said...

Or - they could just buy a really big, sand-filled, egg-timer that everyone in the room can see and have an anonymous flunky whose job it is to turn off the mic after 5 minutes.

A few cut-offs later, people will get the message.

When I am interviewing senior people and a presentation is part of the selection process I am astounded at how often they blithely run 20 and 30 percent over their time.

For a recent one - selecting the CEO for an NGO - we started by saying, "Imagine you are delivering this presentation on CNN. Unfortunately, the satellite will pass out of coverage in 12 minutes' time, cutting you dead. So you need to be really mindful of the clock. Go."

Only 2 out of 5 candidates stuck to their time ...

Anonymous said...

In other business, the commission voted to withdraw its consideration of spending $2,783 on a device to enforce public speaking policy time limits after Burt produced two hourglasses, suggesting the board should consider a much cheaper route.

But Burt said the county could save a lot of money by using hourglasses and a gavel. Commissioners said they plan to discuss the issue again at an upcoming work session.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Hey Rowan, it sounds like they took your advice and got the egg timer. . .

Thanks for the update, BaldwinReport!

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