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Boulder Council wants to eliminate Open Comment entirely -it’s already the shortest (2 min.) of all large Colo. cities, which are otherwise 3 or 5 minutes

Boulder Council wants to eliminate Open Comment entirely -it’s already the shortest (2 min.) of all large Colo. cities, which are otherwise 3 or 5 minutes


Letter to the Editor, by Evan Ravitz

Boulder City Council has been working as one of 3 cities with the National Civic League on the “Better Public Meetings Project.”  (See the attached document), which just came in from the city “hotline” email list from Council members Matt Benjamin and Tara Winer. In the Executive Summary, it says:

In brief, our recommendations include:

Replacing the open public comment segment at council meetings with an open deliberative process and rotate council meetings among different locations in Boulder

Upgrading the city’s digital engagement capacity in one or both of two ways:

  • Use a texting-enabled engagement process to encourage, facilitate, and aggregate small-group deliberation before, during, and after council meetings AND/OR change the way the city does surveys: avoid ‘survey fatigue’ and create a more continuous, flexible, trust-building public opinion capacity by creating a large, standing survey panel
  • Establishing engagement opportunities that inform and are informed by the annual council retreat, including more intensive efforts such as a Citizen’s Assembly on a particularly critical priority
  • Upgrading the community infrastructure for engagement by creating supports for productive dialogue on timely issues in a range of settings
  • Upgrading the skills for engagement by training council members and other Boulder engagement leaders to use those supports

Further on, it says:

  1. The new deliberative segments at council meetings should use the following format:
  2. Participants are sorted randomly into groups of 4-8 as they arrive
  3. Council members and staff join groups (no more than one council member per group in order to comply with open meetings law)
  4. Topics are determined beforehand and included in all descriptions/promotion of the meeting

a. Topics can include more general questions as well as items on the agenda


b. However, quasi-judicial items cannot be included in this segment – public comment on

those items must continue to be conducted pursuant to Chapters 1-3, Quasi-Judicial

Hearings, B.R.C. 1981.

c. “Potential future council agenda items” should always be listed on the agenda

D. Each group has a facilitator, trained beforehand (in addition to city staff, these could be

Community Connectors or other Boulder engagement leaders, see below), whose job is to:

a. Help the group set ground rules

b. Ensure that everyone has a chance to speak

c. Help manage the time

d. Introduce any discussion questions that have been provided

e. Help the group decide who will report out from their conversation OR help the group use the digital reporting process (see below)

E. The group discusses other topics first, then potential future Council agenda items in the last part of the discussion

F. Results of the small groups are shared, and entered in the public record, in one of two ways:

a. Reporter from each group summarizes the discussion OR

b. Participants give their comments/answers via live polling, and results are displayed on a big screen

c. As part of the live polling or through a question on the Engagement Scorecard, participants vote on which potential future agenda items should be prioritized/recommended for the council

G. At the end of the hour, the mayor thanks participants for their time and ideas and explains that council members will use the results in their deliberations and consider the potential agenda items for future meetings. According to the charter, the mayor can also request that staff follow up with questions that emerged during the session, and ask members of the public to give a one-minute clarification.

H. For particularly important and challenging issues, the Council can consider using more intensive deliberative discussions, including:

a. Study Sessions with opportunities for public participation (allowable upon the recommendation of the Chair, as per rules of procedure)

b. Special Sessions, upon the recommendation of the Chair (allowable upon the recommendation of the Chair, as per rules of procedure)

I was there in 2017 when the Council, after a public hearing with unanimous testimony against it, unanimously voted to reduce Open Comment from 3 minutes to 2 minutes.

A year or so ago, I learned from the websites or calls to City Managers’ offices of all Colorado cities larger than Boulder that their Open Comment periods were:

Denver: 3 minutes each

Colo. Spgs: 3 

Aurora: 3

Ft. Collins: 3

Lakewood: 3

Thornton: 3

Arvada: 3

Westminster: 5

Pueblo: 5

Greeley: 3

Boulder: 2

Breaking us up into small groups and pre-determining the agendas are classic manipulations. I am no expert and haven’t examined the rest of the Project, but I want people to know ASAP what is planned. The important things in government, as in life, don’t fit into anyone’s, let alone politicians’ pre-determined plans and processes. Thus, most government bodies, like the council and their boards and commissions, have Open Comment periods. Please let your networks know about this…

At the end of the hotline is an invitation:

We hope community members join the City of Boulder and our National Civic League partners for a ‘Public Meetings & Community Priorities’ engagement session focusing on the 2024 NCL Center for Democracy Innovation Better Public Meetings report for the city and diving deeper into findings from the city’s 2023 Community Survey.                      

Wednesday, February 21, 5:30-7:30 pm                    

Open Space & Mountain Parks – at 2520 55th Street, Boulder 80301

Light refreshments provided

Please RSVP to [email protected]


Evan Ravitz, Guide, Photographer, Writer, Editor

Founder, Strengthen Direct Democracy

We won the 1st ONLINE petitioning for direct democracy:


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