I’ve gotten a number of inquiries from people who want to speak at tonight’s Council meeting, but aren’t quite sure what the process is. So here’s the rundown for the curious. Don’t be offended if I appear to be stating the obvious – I want this to be as clear as possible for everyone, so I’m assuming no prior knowledge of anything.
Okay, first – where is it? City Hall is the big white building at 14th and Broadway downtown that looks like a wedding cake. It’s impossible to miss. Walk in the front door and you will see a giant staircase. Walk up it. (There are elevators to the left in case you can’t use or are afraid of stairs.) Council Chambers is the big room with the big doors right at the top of the staircase that will have tons of people milling around outside. Again, impossible to miss.
If you wish to speak at a City Council meeting, you have to fill out a speaker card. You can either do that at City Hall before the meeting, or do it online beforehand. Click here to fill out a card online. You card will look like this:
If you want to speak on more than one item, you need to fill out a separate card for each item. Once you submit your online speaker card, you will get a confirmation number and receipt. Make sure you print out this page and bring it with you to City Hall.
If you choose to fill out a physical card at City Hall, you will find a table right outside the Council Chambers. There will be a staff person there, a stack of agendas, and a stack of cards. Pick up an agenda so you can follow along, fill out your card, hand it to the staff person at the table, and wait for them to give you your copy. Save this piece of paper! They will not accept any speaker cards after 8 PM (but I would advise people not to push that deadline, because I believe the City Hall clock is still 10 minutes fast).
The meeting starts at 6 PM. Everyone will say the Pledge of Allegiance, then the next thing that happens is Open Forum. Open Forum is where you go if you want to speak about something that is not on the agenda. You can talk about anything you want for one minute, but only the first fifteen people who fill out Open Forum cards get to talk. (I’m guessing that at this point, it’s probably already too late to get into Open Forum for tonight’s meeting.)
Next, there will be a long period of ceremonial matters, Councilmembers making announcements, and such. None of the issues people are concerned about will begin before 7 PM, and realistically, they will probably be much later than that. (I wrote a little overview of what’s on tonight’s agenda for the Oakbook yesterday, BTW.)
Anyway, the item numbers for the big issues people seem most interested in are:
- Whistleblower Program Funding (PDF): Item 25
- Hiring Practices Audit Funding (PDF): Item 27
- Planning Commission Appointment of Ada Chan (PDF): Item 28 (dto510 wrote about this today.)
Be patient. Meetings take a long time. They are often tedious. You will likely get annoyed at having to sit through a lengthy discussion of something that seems totally stupid to you and wonder why they can’t just hurry it up because your issue is much more important. Relax. Everyone feels this way about whatever item they showed up for.
When your item finally gets called, someone will give a short report explaining what the Council is being asked to do. Then they will call the names of all the people who filled out cards. Your speaker card will entitle you to one minute of time. If you think you need more than one minute to say what you want to say, you need to find someone who will cede time to you. So if you want, say, two minutes to speak, have a friend or your wife or somebody fill out their own card, give you their receipt, and when you get up to the podium, you say “Good evening Councilmembers, my name is V Smoothe. I have time ceded to me by Mr. V Smoothe” and wave your receipts to show you have both of them. The person ceding you time must be in attendance at the meeting. When you say their name, they should raise their hand to indicate they are present.
So now, some advice.
- Relax. You may feel nervous once your turn comes. That’s okay, it’s normal. I’ve never been uncomfortable with public speaking, but the set-up at the Council feels very intimidating. Years after I first did it, I still shake uncontrollably the entire time I’m up there every single time I go speak. I’m constantly worried that my legs will give out from underneath me and I will collapse on the ground in front of everyone. If you feel this way, don’t worry. Nobody can tell. I promise.
- Be polite. People are more willing to listen to you if you’re respectful. Berating the Council for something they did six years ago and telling them they’re corrupt will not accomplish anything except to waste everyone’s time and irritate people. And if you don’t care about wasting the Council’s time, remember that your rude and off-topic comments are also wasting the time of every concerned citizen watching the meeting.
- Do not speak longer than your time. Do not whine about how late it is or how long you had to wait. Please, please, please, do not use your limited time to complain about how they don’t give you enough time. I know that a minute doesn’t seem like a lot, but you can actually say quite a bit in that window. When your minute is up and the clock buzzes, thank the Council for their time, then leave. It may seem unfair. You may feel like what you have to say is so important that it’s worth an extra 30 seconds or so. I promise you, every other person in that room feels the exact same way. Deal with it.
- Prepare your remarks beforehand. Some people write out speeches and just read them. This is totally fine, and I recommend it if you think you’ll be nervous or are likely to get tongue tied. Other people bring up a bullet point list with them to help keep their comments on track. I strongly recommend doing this, especially if you are trying to cram a lot of points or information into your comment. It is a good way to ensure that you don’t forget anything important and that your points flow in a way that is easy for people to follow. Practice before you go, so you have a sense of what a minute feels like and how much you can expect to say. Practice making your statement to someone else, so they can tell you if you’re making no sense or your thoughts are hard to follow, then you can adjust accordingly.
- Make an argument for what you want the Council to do. Some people seem to think that Councilmembers should vote a certain way just because they showed up and said so. This is wrong. The Council’s job is to exercise judgment and make decisions after weighing many factors, not to just to do whatever you ask. For all they know, you’re an idiot! So tell them not just that they should vote this way or that, but also why they should.
So, I think that’s everything. If you can’t make the meeting, or maybe, like Beverly Blythe, you find it depressing to come downtown, but are interested nonetheless, you can watch it on KTOP, Oakland Cable Channel 10. If, like me, you don’t have cable, you can still enjoy the excitement from the comfort of your home because KTOP offers live streaming video over the internet. Awesome, huh?