Please reach out to City Council and ask them to reinstate the Open Live Public Comment process (call-in public comment without pre-registration) for City Council meetings, to begin at their next meeting (10/27) and to continue once meetings transition back to an in-person format.
After City Council passed a resolution on July 14th promising reparations to Black communities in Asheville, they instituted a pre-registration public comment process in which community members are required to sign up at least 29 hours in advance of a City Council meeting to make a comment. This new process was instituted without explanation or public input.
As City Council narrows the opening for participation, it skews engagement toward those with the most privilege; further, it substantially limits the relevance and timeliness of the content that will be covered by public comment—effectively excluding folks from the conversation who may be most negatively impacted by their decision-making.
If City Council is committed to equity and meaningful civic engagement by our residents, it needs to reflect this commitment in its public comment processes.
Will you contact City Council and ask them to (a) reinstate Open Live Public Comments (without pre-registration), to be resumed for the next Council meeting (10/27) and (b) continue this remote Open Live Public Comment process once City Council meetings transition back to an in-person format?
Email and Call City Council Members:
- Email all of City Council at AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov
- Call and email Mayor Esther Manheimer – 828-259-5604 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call and email Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler – 828-333-1767 email@example.com
- Call and email Councilman Brian Haynes – 828-619-1776 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call and email Councilwoman Julie Mayfield – 828-271-4544 email@example.com
- Email Councilwoman Antanette Mosley — firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call and email Councilwoman Sheneika Smith – 704-401-9104 email@example.com
- Call and email Councilman Keith Young – 828-407-1181 firstname.lastname@example.org
Please fill out the report back form so we know what you did or are planning to do. There are some talking points and further information below.
Some things you can say or write:
I’m reaching out to you today to urge you to reinstate the Open Live Public Comment process for City Council meetings, to begin at your next Council meeting (10/27) and continue once Council meetings transition back to an in-person format.
The City Charter, which you swore to uphold, declares that Council “must provide for giving citizens reasonable opportunity to be heard at its meetings.” The current process, which requires people to sign up to speak at least 29 hours before the meeting, is not reasonable. It’s also not equitable. By narrowing the opening for participation, participation is skewed toward those with the most privilege.
I know how committed you are to equity from so many of your prior comments, and because of your support for the Reparations Resolution. I’m asking you to demonstrate that commitment by bringing back Open Live Public Comment without the unnecessary burden of pre-registering at least 29 hours in advance, and by making sure that these options continue once in-person meetings return.
Background Information for this Call to Action
Why is Public Comment important and why should everyone be able to do it?
Asheville City Council is the place where all of the public governance decisions are made—each and every one of them impacting our City residents’ quality of life and well-being. The City Charter declares that council “must provide for giving citizens reasonable opportunity to be heard at its meetings.” Public comment is the critical forum where residents can make the Council aware of the potential harm their decisions may cause, and help Council make beneficial, informed decisions and policy. The City has historically used a system for Open Live Public Comment that allowed Council and the community to hear from dozens of speakers on a variety of issues, informed uniquely by the Council’s discussion and often in response to other live-commenters—such as those at the meetings on reparations and the removal of racist monuments.
The City has made it harder for folks to provide Live Public Comment.
After the July 14th City Council meeting, where pressure from community voices contributed to the passing of the Reparations Resolution, the City instituted a pre-registration process for folks who want to make a public comment at a Council meeting.
Before the new restrictions, all you had to do to make a public comment was tune in at any hour of the meeting and wait in a queue. Now, prospective commenters must sign up at least 29 hours in advance and are required to describe what they will say in their comment ahead of time. They must do this with only the weekend to review the agenda and documentation released on Friday near 5:00 p.m.—before the pre-registration deadline at noon on Monday—and without hearing from Council members on their positions. This new process is unnecessarily cumbersome for people with busy lives, especially those with kids or who work in one of this city’s many low-waged jobs.
Voicemail and email public comment processes are made available to people who cannot be present in real time, however these are less impactful. They are also less responsive to the meeting’s proceedings, and in some cases won’t be received by Council until after they have voted.
What is the impact of making it harder for folks to provide Live Public Comment?
The shortest answer to this question is that fewer voices are being heard by the Council in their decision-making, and the excluded voices may be the ones who are most vulnerable or most negatively impacted by their decisions. A system that makes live comment inaccessible is one that invalidates the voice of folks who do not have the time and flexibility to do research over the weekend or schedule this type of time commitment in advance. This process is not reasonable and it is not equitable.
What Council can do to ensure a fair and equitable incorporation of Live Public Comment
Now: The City should return to an Open Live Public Comment process (without pre-registration).
In the near future: When the Council meets in-person again, the City should continue the remote Open Live Public Comment process (without pre-registration) to ensure that the voices of those who are unable to be downtown for a 5:00 p.m. meeting would still have a channel by which they could participate in real time.The City of Asheville has a responsibility to honor the commitments they have made to equity and reparations, and to the City Charter they have sworn an oath to uphold. If Council sincerely wants public engagement and equity, the reinstatement of an Open Live Public Comment process without pre-registration, and continuance of this practice once Council meetings return to an in-person format, are concrete steps they should take toward these goals.