With all members present, Macungie Council voted Monday to restore the public comment segment of its semimonthly meetings.
The vote was split 4-3 with Debra Cope, Joseph Sikorski, David Boyko and Christopher Becker in favor. Nay votes were cast by President Jean Nagle, Vice President Greg Hutchison and Linn Walker.
The restoration will begin with the Oct. 15 meeting.
In typical fashion, the discussion was neither easy nor short. Public comment for the meeting never began until 11:45 p.m.
Nagle said no fewer than five times that she wanted to keep public comment at the end of the meeting at least until the end of the year on a trial basis.
Cope said that when she voted to approved the meeting guidelines in January, and then to amend them in May, that she was under the impression Nagle could change the order of a meeting only to move up "confirmed appointments." They include speakers or petitioners who are attorneys or engineers who charge by the hour to appear before council for whatever reason.
All council members agreed moving such appointments to the beginning of the meeting makes sense.
"The intent of allowing for a change in agenda order was not to push the public back, but to bring special items up," Cope said.
"Moving public comment to the end of the meeting disenfranchises people..." he said.
"You changed the agenda order passed by this council," he said, "And you willy-nilly take away the chance for some people to speak. People shouldn't have to wait. It's not right in my opinion."
"This is the public's time. I have an issue with it if it's done to push people back," she said.
Becker said if the borough is paying someone to attend council to give a professional opinion then they should speak first. He also said that in the coming months there will be difficult budget talks as council prepares for the 2013 budget. Some nights it will be important to talk about the budget first.
All agreed to that, as well.
But Becker was not comfortable with pushing public comment to the end of the meeting for good
Former council member Dorothy Kociuba said the move, "Is Jean's way of avoiding unpleasantness. To make your job easier is not the way to go. Your responsibility is to listen to the concerns of the borough," she said.
Tim Romig, who owns a business in the borough agreed with Kociuba.
"By pushing citizen input to the end of the meeting you show us where we count," Romig said to Nagle.
"Mrs. Nagle, call it what really is: your attempt to stifle descent," Romig said.
After several attempts to make a motion that would cover all the bases -- at least for now -- Sikorski made a motion to keep public comment at the beginning of the meeting but it must be restricted to comment on non-agenda items, he said. Comment on agenda items would be restricted to after council finishes its discussion on each issue.