Middleton Airport Commission Reins in Public Comment

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By: 
Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–Increased interest in the possible expansion of Middleton Municipal Airport Morey Field has prompted Airport Commission meetings to be moved from an airport conference room to City Hall, and now reining in audience intensity is being tried.

Commission Chair John Hallick introduced a two-to-three-minute limit on public comments, regulated by a timer and a buzzer. Also, no public comment would be taken after the initial comment period is closed.

Without being recognized by the chair, several audience members complained about the few minutes they would be allowed to speak.

“It can be none,” Hallick said at the beginning of the Dec. 5 meeting, “I’m giving you two minutes.”

Noting that the Middleton Common Council gives the public three minutes near the beginning of its meetings, commission member Cynthia Richson said the Airport Commission rules should be consistent. 

“Public input is needed to help us make more informed decisions,” said Richson, who also recommended that there should be public comment opportunities for each agenda item.

Hallick offered his rules on public comment after there were several public outbursts at the November meeting during discussion of how $12.4 million in projects were listed on a Federal Aviation Administration report to Congress. A Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics official that spoke about it was questioned by audience members who didn’t wait to be recognized by Hallick.

“Public comment has become more and more uncontrolled. As the chair, my role is to run an orderly meeting. I need to do a better job,” Hallick wrote in a Rules Regarding Public Comment section of the meeting agenda packet.

The audience has criticized the minutes that Mark Opitz, city planner and zoning administrator, takes of the commission meetings. Hallick’s rules stated that detailed public comments will no longer be included in the meeting minutes.

Hallick wrote that his rules for the public and commission members are consistent with Roberts Rules of Order.

“Commissioners should maintain a professional demeanor. We need to listen and not be combative, roll our eyes or make facial expressions,” he wrote.

Richson objected.

“This is a public entity…Free speech includes non-verbal facial expressions,” she said. 

Opitz said, the Common Council had not formally adopted the rules that Hallick was implementing, but it has guidelines that call for respectful public comment.

“You can complain to the City Attorney but I’ll keep the guidelines,” Hallick said.

Everyone gets a chance to comment but only once, he said. Hallick then asked each individual in the audience if they wished to speak and the timer was started timer if they did.

Joe Getty, a Town of Middleton resident, said he’s given his address at prior meetings when he’s spoken against airport noise and has since noticed more airplanes flying over his house.

“Is this intimidation? I used to think having the airport nearby was great…Don’t go beyond sport aircraft but that’s where we’re heading with more planes using instrument (flight rules),” he said.

Steve Ziegler, who lives just west of the paved runway, asked why public comment was restricted to just two minutes per person. Ziegler noted that Hallick had the opportunity to respond as his rules allowed the chair to give “limited factual information.”

However, Hallick remain silent. Ziegler asked again and Hallick said nothing.

“Oh my god,” Ziegler said. “Maybe if we had three minutes, you could answer.”

Hallick didn’t answer, and closed public comment period.

Meetings are held the first Thursday of the month beginning at 5 p.m.

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