— Andrea Cunningham, City Secretary for the City of Dripping Springs
What I love most about being a City Secretary is my engagement with the public. I enjoy putting citizens in touch with their local leaders and teaching them how their local government can work for them. In my capacity, I receive a myriad of questions regarding the process of the City Council and government decision making. Perhaps the most frequently asked question is regarding public hearings – what a public hearing is, what is the purpose, and what is the protocol.
Most public hearings are required by state law or city ordinance; however, the City strives to hold public hearings on many items whether the public hearing is statutory or not. Notice of public hearings can always be found on the posted agenda. Sometimes the city is required by law to further spread the word about a public hearing through the following avenues:
- Publishing notice of the public hearing in the Dripping Springs Century News
- Posting the notice of the public hearing in the window at city hall
- Posting on the city’s public notices webpage
- Mailing notices to affected property owners
In some cases, the above methods of posting a public hearing notice are not required, but the city chooses to do so because we believe it’s the right thing to do.
The purpose of a public hearing is to allow the public an opportunity to speak in front of elected and appointed officials and decision makers on matters of concern within the community. Public hearings are recorded in the official meeting minutes and provide the City with a record of citizens for or against a particular item. The public hearing is a powerful tool for citizens, and is in my opinion, the best way for citizens to voice their support or opposition for an item of business in front of the City Council, commissions or boards.
There are some ground rules that must be followed which are general in nature and mostly address decorum. Below I have provided some tips to help you
1. Come as you are! The Mayor, City Council, Commissioners, and staff are regular working folks just like you. We understand that many of you have busy schedules between work and home life and getting to the meeting is difficult enough without having to worry about your attire.
2. Signing In. Every open meeting of the City of Dripping Springs will have a sign-in sheet and copies of the agenda for the public. If you wish to speak during a public hearing, it is best to sign-in. This ensures that the City gets your name correct for the public record and that you are allotted your time to speak. If you are unable to sign-in, be sure to state your name clearly before speaking.
3. Public Hearings have no age limit. The City of Dripping Springs encourages citizens of all ages to speak at public hearings. Public engagement is important for anyone at any age. We especially enjoy when we see school-aged children speak. It always amazes staff and Council how poised and poignant young people can be.
4. Know your material and come prepared. I cannot stress how important it is to come to the meeting prepared. Information regarding agenda items can be obtained by contacting the City Secretary or calling City Hall. Most information is open and available to the public; however, make sure to request your information early. Sometimes it can take up to 10 days for staff to retrieve the documents requested.
5. Address the City Council or recommending body. The public hearing is your time to address officials. Please note staff and applicants cannot converse with citizens during the public hearing. Officials may address the issues after you are finished speaking. If you have questions for staff or an applicant, ask the officials, who may, in turn, address your questions.
6. You only get one chance. The public hearing is intended to let every citizen speak and speak one time only. On rare occasions, after you are finished speaking, the Mayor or chair will request you return to the podium for follow up questions.
7. There are time restrictions. As a general rule, speakers are limited to three minutes. The Mayor or chair of the meeting can set limitations as they see fit according to the number of speakers signed-in, and the number of overall items on the agenda. This includes limiting the total time allowed for a public hearing.
8. Cede your time. Speakers that are signed-in can cede their time to others who may need more time to get their point across. This is an important strategy for groups or coalitions wishing to give a presentation that would exceed the set time limit. In order to cede time, you must also be present.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post!
About the Blogger
Cunningham has been the City Secretary for Dripping Springs since August 2017. Prior to joining the City, she served as the Assistant City Secretary for the City of New Braunfels.