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Can Residents Phone-In and Speak During Council Meetings?

In our listserv, residents are asking to explore the possibility of a call-in phone option during Council meetings and public hearing. This is to benefit residents who cannot attend our Council meetings due to many reasons, such as their busy schedule, distance to travel and disability.

I spoke about this option with our staff in a little more details. Right now, there is no mechanism to take phone-in comments, either before or during a meeting. Residents can only submit their comments via emails or regular mails before the meetings start. In order to make the phone-in comments possible, it appears that we will need to make changes to Council’s Rules and Procedures.

The bigger question will be how we can do it. In the past, Council did take phone-in comments from Council members and other invited guests during Council work sessions using conference calls. Staff would typically call-in the outside participants to get the conversation started. If we allow residents to call in, we will need a separate call-in system to make that possible, because it’s possible that many residents may call-in at the same time. We could allow residents to call in via our existing teleconference system and speak, but that might disrupt the meetings procedure, if too many residents try to speak at the same time with Mayor having little control over them.

In addition to the new call-in system, we may also need a full time call taker during the Council meetings, so that the incoming calls can be placed in a queue and dispatched one after another. We can think of this person similar to a call-taker during a radio talk-show session. Here are some examples of systems used in radio talk show sessions: https://proaudio.com/catalog/talk-show-systems.asp . Our IT will probably need to do more research and determine a suitable system for our needs.

Among our neighboring cities, It looks like new Carroltton has City Council has a phone-in option. I spoke with a Council member of the new Carroltton City Council about their call-in option. They only take calls after their worksessions. They don’t take any testimonies during their regular meeting, even though he thinks it’s a good idea to have that option as well.

If the item is added to the worksession agenda, here are a couple of items we want to discuss:
1. Should we allow residents to call-in, or limit public input via emails and in-person testimonies only
2. If we allow phone-in, who should we allow to call-in? Only residents with disability? How about residents with illness and other needs? How do we define them?
3. Method of phone-in. Should residents call-in or staff call-out to residents ? If staff call-out, how and when the residents can provide their numbers?
4. What changes we need to make to our website and other City materials to let residents know about the call-in option?

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