Norman Belanger was named Biddeford City Council President by his peers Dec. 21. He proposed additional times for the public to speak at meetings, and after discussion and modifications, additional times were approved. Courtesy Photo

BIDDEFORD — Members of the public who attend Biddeford City Council meetings will now have more opportunities to tell the council what is on their mind.

Councilor Norman Belanger, elected Council president unanimously by his peers Dec. 21, introduced some changes to council rules, which the panel approved that evening.

For the last several years, the public has had the opportunity to address the City Council regarding non-agenda items, only near the end of the meeting.

Starting with Jan 4. meeting, residents may now address the City Council near the beginning of the meeting if they wish, or at the end.

As well, the public will have the chance to speak at both first and second readings of upcoming proposed ordinance amendments and the like, whereas until the change, council rules had spelled out that public comment was allowed only at the first reading, unless further amendments had emerged.

“I’m trying to get more people to come and speak, and make it easy as possible,” Belanger told his fellow councilors. “I’m trying to open it up.”

He said some residents who want to speak to the council cannot always wait for the end of the meeting.

Belanger suggested 5 minutes per speaker at the beginning of the meeting and a total of 15 minutes at the end plus any unused time.

“I would argue at the beginning to make it 3 minutes per speaker — there might be more people (attending) rather than at 9 o’clock at night, and I think they can get their thoughts across in a quick way,” suggested Councilor Marc Lessard.

“Three minutes winds up being a fair amount of time to talk on any issue,” said Councilor Amy Clearwater.

“I’m comfortable with three minutes beforehand and five after,” said Belanger and in the end, those times were approved.

“And we still have the opportunity to amend the rules to allow people to speak longer,” said Councilor Bobby Mills.

“All these things being proposed have been done in the past, but for one reason or another changed, because they did not work in certain circumstances,” said Mayor Alan Casavant, who added he tends to be lenient when it comes to public comment.

Councilors also agreed to allow public comments, up to 3 minutes per speaker, during both the first and second readings of items requiring council action.

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