Here's How To Get In Front Of Your Elected Officials And Tell Them What You Think
If you’ve ever aspired to get your face on public access TV, this guide to testifying before council members at City Hall should make it pretty easy.
STEP 1: Clear your Thursday schedule.
City Council meetings typically take place every other Thursday. Here’s a schedule of council's 2019 meetings. Curious about what members will be tackling on the day you go? Agendas are posted two weeks ahead of time and can be found here.
STEP 2: Figure out what you want to talk about.
Knowing what you want to talk about will determine when you’ll need to be ready to testify. If you want to tell council members about something that’s not on their agenda, you can chime in during a citizen communication period, which happens at noon on meeting days.
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"It's OK to write the whole thing out and just read it to them if that's what you need to do." – Heyden Black Walker, urban planner
The other option is to weigh in on an agenda item. Know this: Council members do not go through the agenda in order, so it’s often anyone’s guess when they’ll take up the issue you care about. They do sometimes set certain items for specific times; that’s called time-certain. But don’t be fooled –that only means they won’t consider the item before that time.
STEP 3: Sign up.
If you want to talk at noon on an issue not on the council’s current agenda, there are a couple ways to sign up: You can call the City Clerk’s office or sign up online. You’ll have to sign up much further in advance than if you want to talk about an agenda item. Find more details here.
If you’d like to weigh in on something the council’s voting on, you’ll need to sign up at City Hall. You can do that at several kiosks in the lobby. You can sign up as early as noon on the Monday before the council meeting and up until the mayor calls the last registered speaker for an item.
STEP 4: Wait. And then probably wait some more.
This step is fun.
If you signed up for general citizen communication, congrats! You’ll get to speak roughly around noon.
"Bring a book." – Eric Goff, activist
If you signed up to talk on a specific item, good luck! No time is as certain as it seems. See above.
STEP 5: Speak your mind.
As John Mayer said: “Say what you need to say.” I’ll stop.
If you signed up for general citizen communication, you don’t have to show up at City Hall to talk (but you can). You can also get Skyped in, but it must be from one of nearly 30 public library branches in the city. Here’s a list.
If you want to talk about a specific agenda item, you’ll have to do it in person at City Hall.
"It can be an intimidating experience. If you really feel comfortable with what you're saying and feel confident in the messages you're going to give to the council people then it gets easier." – Chris Harris, Grassroots Leadership
Typically, you’ll get three minutes to speak. It helps to be one of the first on the list. After 20 speakers, council often starts limiting testimony to one minute. You can get more time to speak by having someone donate their time to you. See more on this below.
OPTIONAL STEP 5: Maybe don’t speak your mind. Donate your time to a pal.
If you signed up but no longer want to talk, you can donate your minutes to someone else. You have to be at the council meeting to do this, though, and the mayor will likely ask you to call out or raise your hand to prove you’re there.