Darden Rice is the District Four council member in St. Pete and we spent time dissecting her city’s restrictive public comment period. Then we practiced convincing teenagers to come and speak to the council! (BONUS: Info about International #CityHallSelfie Day.)
Q: Council Member, I was angry when I heard that only city residents, owners of property, business owners in the city, or their employees could speak in your meetings–and only on city government issues. Does this mean I am not allowed to come and tell you folks why “Shrek 2” was better than the original “Shrek?”
A: Yeah, there might be some issues if you wanted to speak if you’re not a St. Pete resident. Although you could call your friends, like Council Member Darden Rice, and I could invite you to come talk about “Shrek.”
Q: I do know it’s highly unusual for a council to limit the kinds of people who can speak during a public comment. What would you say to the argument that, as a representative, you are obligated to hear what your people are concerned about? Even if that concern is not, strictly speaking, about city business?
A: I think you’ve got a really good point. I tend to be a little more liberal in the application of what rules we use. But at the end of the day, it is on advice from our legal team that the people that speak–because there’s limited time–that we honor those who are residents.
Q: Practically though, how do you screen out people who don’t meet those criteria?
A: There’s really a trust system involved. It’s so rarely that someone doesn’t meet the criteria.
Q: For the record then: if the Queen of England herself walked into the St. Pete council meeting for open forum and you had your suspicions that she was not a resident, you would still not say, “sorry, Mum, I’ll need to see the address on your driver’s license first?”
A: I would imagine that our chairperson of council would give the courtesy of the Queen to speak at council.
Q: Recently, Council Member Steve Kornell had an idea to ask the ministers you invite to do your invocations to also bring children from their youth groups to speak at council meetings. Can you explain what this procedure is supposed to look like? And please do use words like “dope” or “extra” in your answer.
A: [laughs] I think it has a good intention. I think it would take a lot of work bringing kids and getting them out of school to come and speak to council. I haven’t really thought about whether this is an idea I think is really great or if it’s just gonna make meetings run a lot longer.
Q: Let’s do a role-playing exercise. Let’s pretend you are a minister about to give the invocation–Presbyterian, if you need to get into character. And you are trying to convince me, a moody teenager, to come and speak during the open forum.
A: Hey, Michael. This is Pastor Darden Rice and we are gonna go up and talk to city council today. I’d like you to share some issues you have going on at school and talk about how safe you feel in the neighborhoods or not and just let your elected officials know about what it’s like living in St. Pete. How does that sound?
Q: Ugh, city council? That sounds like old people stuff. You are embarrassing me so hard right now in front of my phone. I will not be on camera without a filter. No way. #noway.
A: Hey, Michael, I think you ought to give this a second thought. When young people show up, we really listen. I think it would be a great learning experience.
Q: It’s not gonna be boring is it? My boyfriend went to an Ed Sheeran concert and said it was super boring and I’m worried this will be like the Ed Sheeran concert.
A: It won’t be boring because you’re just staying for the beginning of it. I promise.
A: Okay, fine. Only if I can text my friends about how I’m at the city council meeting and they’re not so they’re lame.
Follow Council Member Darden Rice on Twitter: @DardenRice