Tips for speaking during public comment at COA meetings

Below is an overview written by a friend and shared with me:

At the beginning of a meeting there is a period of time called “public comment”.  A member of the public can have up to 3 minutes to speak on any topic.  The member may have slides or not.  Members of the Commission may not ask questions.  City Staff may ask “clarifying questions."

If you believe that an in-person meeting is merited: Start contacting people 2 weeks ahead, especially your Commissioner appointed by the Council Member of your district, asking for a meeting as a follow up to the email they “may have read” and say you would like to discuss it.  Make sure you bring the facts along, not allegations.

Sometimes there are many topics that can be discussed.  One approach would be to select say 5 of 10 of the most important topics and address those.  This will make the point and not annoy everyone by taking up too much time.  Come early to sign up.  You may sign up online.  Arrive 30 minutes before the meeting begins. If you can’t attend in person, you can sign up and present remotely.

About two days prior to the meeting it is sometimes useful to submit background information on what you will be speaking about.  You only have 3 minutes, but you have 10 minutes worth of information.  So, send the rest of the information in an email a couple of days before.  Commissioners don't get into their City emails every day so send a few days before.  Provide contact information (phone numbers if you would like) and suggest they call if they want to discuss prior to the meeting.  Some may call and you get additional “FaceTime” that way.  Also, prior to the meeting, it might be useful if you contact the Commissioner from your District and speak with them, perhaps request a meeting in person.  Lobby them.

It may prove helpful if you bring paper copies of your presentation along to hand out.  You can give them to the Commission City Staff liaison as you go to the podium.  That way if people have not read the email or don’t have it pulled up, they will have a summary of the presentation.  If your email was 100 pages long, no need to print it all out, just the highlights, 4-5 pages.

There are lots of tactics to use.  Use the ones that work best for you.

Be bold and ask them to request your topic be a “formal agenda item” at a subsequent meeting.  It will take a second Commissioner to second the motion.  This may not happen at the meeting, but via email.  Personal lobbying via phone or in person can be effective.  If not now, for the next time.   

Make sure there is a point to this.  What action do you want them to take with this new information?  What specific action do you want taken?  The same action must be asked of each Commissioner.  Consistency.  When you present to the Commission, what is the action you are requesting?  Is it within the scope of the Commission.  For example, the Environmental Commission has great sympathy for the homeless situation, but their ability to impact that is minimal.  You can ask them to fix it, but they cannot do much.  You might ask them to support a specific action of a different board/commission/council, say the Parks Board, or ask them to work with the Parks Board on a specific topic.  Be specific and clear.

If the topic you are discussing was previously raised somewhere else but did not have correct information, be prepared to back that statement up in the email and/or presentation.  The Commissioners are not likely to accept on face value.

These are general recommendations I would make in preparation for presenting in front of any Board/Commission.



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