‘You have a gavel for a reason:’ Denver City Council rejects president’s talking time limits

Most of us have wanted to interrupt or cut off rambling co workers, but few of us have any control over how long they speak. Denver City Council members have made it clear that they want to keep it that way.

Council president Albus Brooks today decided to back off on his proposal to limit council members to 10 minutes of speaking time each in full council meetings. A vigorous debate during an Operations committee meeting today showed strong resistance to the idea.

In presenting his proposal, Brooks asked his colleagues to consider the public. Plenty of people attend city council meetings for one specific reason and have to sit through a list of other agenda before the body addresses what interests them. Brooks also pointed out that members of Congress have 10 minute time limits, as do state legislators when bills are on their third reading.

But other council members pointed out two facts that made those points less compelling. First, Congress and state legislators are much larger bodies, making such time limits more necessary. Colorado’s General Assembly has 100 members, and Congress has 535. City Council has only 13 members.

Second, Denver’s city council already has a set of etiquette rules. They abide by Robert’s Rules of Order, a time-honored rubric that helps groups of all kinds, from corporate boards to high school student governments, come to agreements. Under Robert’s Rules, the leader of a group — in this case, President Brooks —  can use discretion to cut people off when he or she feels their point is not productive.

Brooks’ fellow council members encouraged him simply to exercise that right more frequently, instead of imposing concrete limits.

“You have a gavel for a reason,” Councilman Paul Lopez said.

Some members sided with Brooks, saying that 10 minutes should be plenty of time for members who are adequately prepared. “Legislators do their work in committee, not on the bench,” Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman said, adopting a teacherly tone.

But others thought that point of view was too unforgiving, and that Brooks’ proposal would make it difficult to evaluate legislation with adequate rigor.

“When it comes to rezoning, we’re not supposed to be privy to all those details before they come forward,” Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said. “To be able to make sure that we’re making an informed decision, we need to ask questions.”

Brooks concluded the meeting by reiterating that his primary goal was to simply to have a conversation about excessive time spent speaking, and that that mission was accomplished.

“Since we’ve started the conversation, this body has gotten better,” Brooks said.

Photo Credit: GlaxoSmithKline, Creative Commons, Flickr