Portland City Council may outlaw signs at meetings

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PORTLAND — City Council meetings could start later, but the public comment period would begin earlier, if new rules are adopted at the council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

While the council ad hoc committee reviewing the overall rules for meetings found little reason to change things Monday night, it also decided to ban people from bringing signs into meetings.

“There are circumstances when it is OK to seemingly limit freedom of speech, based on content,” Councilor Jill Duson said in support of the new rule, which was endorsed unanimously by her, Mayor Ethan Strimling and Councilors Nick Mavodones Jr. and Justin Costa.

The committee, which will continue to review its rules and procedures at a 5:30 p.m., meeting Thursday, Dec. 1, in Room 209 at City Hall, also endorsed starting meetings at 5:30 p.m. and allowing public comment on non-agenda items at 6 p.m.

Councilors now meet at 5 p.m., a revision from the 7 p.m. start time passed a year ago. Following a planned 6:30 p.m. dinner break, meetings resume at 7 p.m. for the public comment period.

Because there were instances when council business was concluded before the dinner break, councilors decided to move the time ahead and give speakers a chance to talk before a wider audience.

The proposed change does not set a definite time for the dinner break, but it will be expected to occur at 7 p.m.

While there were no objections to people wearing buttons or apparel in support or opposition to agenda items, under the proposed sign rule signs would have to be left outside council chambers. The council already prohibits cheering or booing.

“I think we have all seen the trend,” Costa said. “The intent is to have an open area where people can speak without feeling intimidated.”

Councilors also decided against having official meetings at outside locations because it could create access problems or prevent meetings from being taped.

They then reaffirmed the rule allowing councilors to speak for up to 10 minutes on each item and that introductory comments about a sponsored ordinance do not count against the 10-minute limit.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Signs like these at an April 21 meeting could be banned when Portland city councilors vote Dec. 5 on new meeting rules.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.