Making an impact using the public comment process
Why make a public comment?
Public comment is an essential component of a healthy community, county and state. It’s the only way the leaders, policy makers and legislators can really discern what the people want. Voting is important, but it doesn’t stop there.
Your City, County, State and Federal governments all make possible the opportunity for your voice to be heard on all issues. Let’s use those opportunities to be involved in the development of our own communities!
Public comment requires thought and preparation as well as some guts. Making your opinion heard on any subject in front of the public can be very intimidating. One of our desires at SLOCCBA is that every citizen learn how to make a clear, concise and impactful public comment on any issue they wish to respond to. The better prepared you are with your message the less horrifying it can be to make your public comment to a governing body staring back at you intently.
When do I make a public comment?
Public comment opportunities happen various times during the meeting including a general public comment regarding items not listed on the agenda. This can be for things not being addressed by the board that perhaps a citizen thinks ought to be. For public announcements, events, problems or acknowledgements. Kudos or criticism to the county for something they did or didn't’ do; things of this nature.
Commenting on agenda items:
These are specific items that are up for presentation, discussion or vote to the board or council. An agenda is posted online or mailed out to view before hand. Online will usually offer links to documents associated with that agenda item. Go online to www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/BOSagenda .
The board will usually receive a presentation or report of some kind before they open to public input so that everyone know’s what’s being discussed as well as what direction the staff is needing from the board.
Pay attention to the recommendations put forth by staff for the board to act on.
When making your public comment be sure to conclude with your thoughts of the proposed recommendations and always feel free to offer up your own if you feel they missed the mark! Remember, staff and supervisors are people too! They don’t always get it right the first time. Part of the process is to work until all parties are satisfied they’ve been heard and understood and best policy is put forth for the people to abide by.
How do I make a public comment?
A citizen can make their comment heard in a few ways and will need to be done in advance of any vote or decision. Don’t be late and make your comment after the board has taken action! By then it may be too late!
Representatives can be contacted directly on the phone, by email, letter or one can go to a supervisor meeting to use 2 to 3 minute “public comment period”. A meeting agenda is posted online about a week prior to the meeting listing the items that will be discussed in order of appearance. County Board of Supervisor meetings are every Tuesday for the most part at 1055 Monterey St in San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.
What ever way you wish to deliver your comment keep these few things in mind:
- Whether you read it out loud or send it in a letter or email, keep it under three minutes reading time.
- Keep to the facts and get to the point. Nothing will make eyes glaze over faster than a rambling monologue about how “you feel”. They need facts, statistics, ideas and solutions.
San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors:
Non-incorporated towns and areas that are not cities in San Luis Obispo fall under the immediate jurisdiction of the County Board of Supervisors.
The County is divided into 5 districts, each with a representative that make up the County Board of Supervisors.
Mailing address: 1055 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
District 1 - John Peschong, Chair
Assistant - Vicki Janssen
District 2 - Bruce Gibson
Assistant - Cherie McKee
District 3 - Adam Hill, Vice Chair
Assistant - Hannah Miller
District 4 - Lynn Compton
Assistant - Caleb Mott
District 5 - Debbie Arnold
Assistant - Jen Caffee
You can send one email to all at:
What district are you in? Map Link: http://www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/districtmap.htm
How do unincorporated areas represent themselves?
Area Advisory Groups of SLO’s unincorporated areas based upon public comment & deliberation they receive during their monthly meetings offer Advisory Board direction to the board of supervisors representing their district. These meetings are open to the public and also will offer opportunities for public comment. See an online listing and contact information to SLO Area Advisory Groups by following this link: www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/Area_Advisory_Councils
Avila Valley Advisory Council
Cayucos Citizens' Advisory Council
Creston Advisory Body
Los Osos Community Advisory Council
North Coast Advisory Council
Oceano Advisory Council
San Miguel Advisory Council
Santa Margarita Area Advisory Council (SMAAC)
Shandon Advisory Committee
South County Advisory Council
Templeton Area Advisory Group
Can I make a public comment at an Area Advisory Group?
Public Comment at City Council Meetings.
Incorporated Cities of San Luis Obispo have City Council meetings usually every other week. The agendas will be posted to their websites about a week before the meeting as well as the pertaining documents.
Public comment is handled in the same way as a County Board of Supervisors meeting we discussed earlier in this presentation.
Each City has it’s own elected City Council Members that can receive public comment in the same ways we discussed earlier; contact your representative directly on the phone, submit an email, a letter or one can go to a City Council meeting and use the 2 to 3 minute “public comment period”
Can I comment on issues outside my city? Or if I live in the county can I comment to a city council?
Yes! Anyone can make a public comment in any town or city or county they wish.
GENERAL OVERVIEW TO THE PUBLIC COMMENT PROCESS
Basic Steps to preparing for public comment: derived from: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Public-Comment-at-a-City-Council-Meeting
- Research your topic of interest. Do local governments have the power to do what you want them to do? Gather any facts you want to present, including citations.
- Read the local news. Keep current on issues facing your community.
- Review the minutes from recent meetings to find out what actions have recently been taken relating to your concerns.
- Find out when your next city council (or County board of Supervisors depending on if it’s a county or city issue) meeting is. Check at your city's website if they have one, see links provided above.
- Read the agenda for the meeting you plan to attend. While there is often a period for public comment on any topic, councils generally cannot act on anything unless it is on the agenda.
- Understand what is being done. Is your council studying and planning, or is it voting on an issue? What will the vote decide?
- Read any supporting documents for the agenda item which concerns you. Plans, reports, drafts of ordinances, proposals, and many other documents may be available. Understand what is being proposed and what action may be taken.
- Write your comments.
- Be aware of any time limits on comments (typically 2 or 3 minutes), and practice your comments out loud a few times to make sure you can say what you want in the allotted time.
- Make notes. You could read from a paper, but be aware that you may sound flat and make little eye contact. You could also make a note card of points and speak from that.
- Be prepared to be nervous. Even if you plan and practice well, you may still feel pressure when you are at the podium, with the timer running and the council looking at you. Pre-write your notes if you need to.
- Go to your city hall and fill out a speaker card, if one is required. If you're not sure what the procedure is, arrive a little early and ask.
- At some council meetings, you may also speak simply by lining up to do so during the comment period. It is usually best to submit a card if you know in advance you plan to speak.
- Attend the meeting, and wait until you are called up.
- Dress appropriately. You need not dress overly formally, but dress more as you might for an office than for the beach. If you are affiliated with a group, and especially if other group members will be present, consider wearing a uniform, t-shirt, or other insignia.
- Listen to others' comments on the issue(s) of concern,
- Listen to anyone giving a presentation on the issue(s) of concern. Sometimes city staff, engineers, architects, or other direct stakeholders make presentations to explain what is being proposed. Listen carefully.
- Decide whether you want to adjust your remarks. If you are confident enough to make changes at this point, it can save scarce time to say that you agree or disagree with previous speaker(s), and would like to add something. It can also help your comments to be on point with what is really at issue.
- The simplest adjustment to make is to strike out and omit any part which is no longer relevant or correct.
- Go up to the podium confidently when called. Thank whichever person called you, putting their title (mayor, council member) before their last name.
- Introduce yourself, state that you live in the city, and state any relevant affiliations. If you are a member of a group but are speaking for yourself, say so.
- State your position clearly. This is the most important part, and the reason you came. Briefly explain your reasoning or describe evidence.
- It's ok to be nervous, and to refer to your notes. Do your best to speak clearly, to make eye contact, and to sound human.
- Thank the city council when done making your comments.
- Conclude when your time is up, whether you have completed your thoughts or not. It's generally all right to finish your sentence or say thank you after the timer goes off, but don't keep going any longer than that.
- Submit any additional communication in writing. If you have additional remarks or supporting materials, or if you can't attend, write it down. Many city councils have an email address, and most should have a city clerk or other staff member present, who can collect printed material for the record. Ask before the meeting if you're not sure what to do with such matter.
- If you are submitting photos, graphs, or other supporting material along with your comment, mention it during your comment.
- It's best to submit written materials before a meeting, especially if the council will be making a decision on a matter the same day.