“Divisive” public comment at Loveland City Council meetings is taking up too much valuable public time, according to a group of concerned local business owners and citizens.
On Tuesday, the group announced an online letter signing campaign to urge council to limit general public comment session to once per month.
“A group of Loveland business and community leaders is launching an initiative today called ‘Back to Business Loveland,’” a media release reads in part. “Sharing their frustration with ongoing distraction and drama at Loveland City Council meetings, the group proposes a straightforward structural change for the meetings.”
Currently, citizens are given three minutes to address City Council on any topic not on the regular agenda at the beginning of each bi-weekly regular meeting, when the council votes on pending business.
The proposed change would eliminate that comment period from regular or special meetings, moving it instead to a monthly study session, which is informational only.
The move comes after recent public comments regarding Loveland City Manager Steve Adams, who entered a pretrial diversion program last month, after facing criminal harassment charges.
In the weeks since, both supporters and detractors of Adams have spoken out during City Council meetings, as his continued employment with the city has come into question.
“Looking at this situation through a problem-solving lens, we know we can’t maintain the status quo,” Mindy McCloughan, president and CEO of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce said in the media release. “We have an ongoing effort from a small group of citizens who seem intent on derailing the normal business of the council.”
McCloughan went on to decry the “ongoing drama and name-calling,” which she termed “demoralizing.”
As for whether the proposal to limit public comment was limiting free expression or political speech, Alana McGough, a spokesperson for the group, wrote in an email interview that citizens have “ample opportunity” to express their concerns in Loveland.
“We are proposing a once-a-month general public comment,” she wrote. “People can also email their councilor or the city at any time. They can also write letters to the editor. When the concerns of a few distract from the business of the rest of the community, something has to change about the meeting structure.”
Loveland City Council does have authority to set or change public comment rules, but there could be hurdles to eliminating opportunities for citizens to address the council, according to City Attorney Moses Garcia.
The Loveland City Charter states that “persons shall have a reasonable opportunity to be heard at each meeting,” and further, “the Council shall permit public comments,” before voting on any ordinance.
Garcia said that the word “reasonable” was open to interpretation and could possibly be stretched to mean once per month, but he was doubtful.
“The city of Loveland has probably one of the most expansive public comment policies in all of Colorado,” he said. “There are restrictions that can be placed on this, but our charter really does have some limitations.”
One member of the council against the proposed action is Mayor Jacki Marsh, who was a frequent commenter at meetings before her election in 2017.
Citing several examples of recent city action — from COVID-19 assistance, to metro district reform, to the encampment ban — she argued that engagement with citizens is one of the council’s most critical tools, and it would be short-sighted to limit opportunities for it.
“It has had a positive impact on where Loveland has gone,” she said. “…I think it’s our job to listen. We don’t want to operate in a bubble.”
The group plans to present its proposal and signatures to City Council in December.
To read or sign the letter, visit backtobusinessloveland.org.