Alexandria Public Comment Kerfuffle Revisited

Alexandria Public Comment Kerfuffle Revisited

Procedural change reopens old City Council wound

The city manager’s report moved from the end of the City Council meetings to the start of the meeting. That’s it. But the item that was seemingly going to be approved without much discussion at the tail end of the Nov. 28 City Council meeting turned into a spat between Mayor Allison Silberberg and Vice Mayor Justin Wilson.

The agenda item was a revised order of business of Council Meetings, but before it was approved Silberberg noted that its contents should be read so the public is aware of the change. There was no objection from the council, but then Silberberg mentioned a change in the council procedure from January this year. The council had voted in support of a change requested by Vice Mayor Justin Wilson to limit the number of public speakers signing up at the start of the meeting to 15. Silberberg had expressed open disdain for the move, calling it draconian and anti-democratic. Silberberg used the city manager agenda item to once again express her dislike of the change, prompting backlash from other members of the council.

Wilson, who announced a week earlier that he would be challenging Silberberg for mayorship in the Democratic primary, fired back that the rules limited public comment to 30 minutes and limiting speakers to 15 was an effort to keep to that timetable. While Silberberg noted that the limit had never been strictly enforced, the original motion was prompted by the sharp lengthening of public comment periods in the past year to over an hour.

Silberberg-Wilson spats have become a regular feature of City Council meetings in Silberberg’s two years as mayor, but this argument pulled in other members of the council against the mayor.

“Why are we even discussing this?” Councilman Paul Smedberg said to the mayor.

Councilman Willie Bailey, usually taciturn on council politics issues, unexpectedly charged into the fray.

“We still go over 30 minutes, we need to be cognizant of that,” said Bailey. “Ten people times three is 30 minutes … 15 times three is 45 minutes. That’s still over 30. I want to know what this conversation is for?”

The change to the council schedule was unanimously approved moments later.