Fewer People Sign Up to Speak at Cville City Council Since New Rules

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Charlottesville City Council meeting Charlottesville City Council meeting

Update: Woman Boycotts City Council in light of Public Speaking Rules:

Monday, a Charlottesville woman protested city council's meeting in front of the free speech wall in downtown Charlottesville.

Joanne Robertson says City Council is stifling people's right to free speech. Robertson was handing out anti-bullying ribbons. She says City Council is not responding to the everyday citizens.

Several months ago, Robertson started a petition asking council to appeal its rules for public comment, calling for full transparency, and a robust democracy.

The city of Charlottesville is defending a set of rules councilors put in place on people who want to speak at their meetings.

The city says the rules are allowing a more diverse variety of speakers to address council, but an NBC29 review of council meeting minutes reveals fewer people seem to be stepping up to the podium.

The number of people signing up to speak at Charlottesville City Council meetings is dropping off since new rules went into effect. 

The rules require people sign up for an online lottery to fill nine of 12 speaker spots to address council at the start of each meeting. Council reserves the other three spots for people who show up at the meeting.

The number of speakers signing up online has dwindled from 25 at the first meeting in March to five or fewer at recent meetings.

NBC29 counted the speakers in council meeting minutes and video recordings between March and October of each year since 2010, which is the same time period the new rules have been in place this year. Our tally shows 132 people have addressed council this year, it's the second lowest number of speakers in those seven years.

“We expect to see ebbs and flows from year to year just depending on the regular course of what people are interested in and what they want to talk to their elected officials about,” said Charlottesville Spokeswoman Miriam Dickler.

City statistics show the most frequent speakers are taking up less time: 37 percent of the time this year compared to 56 percent before the new rules.

“I think now, with this process that's in place, it creates another level of barrier to be included,” said Nancy Carpenter, who opposes the new council rules. “I think it's a one-on-one issue and you're looking at coming down here hoping to have some kind of feedback from your City Council and they create another layer of what you have to do to do that."

The mayor holds the power to cut-off speakers who violate the rules and councilors are discouraged from replying to individual comments.

The city reminds people that a second "Matters from the Public" section at the end of each council meeting allows an unlimited number of speakers.

Opponents of the new rules are calling for a boycott of Monday's council meeting at the Free Speech Wall outside City Hall.