Speakers will now get only three minutes to address the Jersey City Council after the council adopted the new regulation by a narrow 5-3 vote during a four-hour council meeting.
According to the ordinance, the public will have three minutes to speak on ordinances on second reading as well as during the public portion of the meeting when it can speak on any topic before the council.
The ordinance will give the public an additional two minutes for a total of five minutes to speak on the budget or any budget amendments during budget hearings only.
Currently, members of the public are allowed five minutes to address the council during the public-comment portion of meetings and are given unlimited time during ordinances on second reading.
Councilman James Solomon said this unlimited time has been used by members of the public to filibuster and essentially “wear the council down.”
A few members of the public spoke on the ordinance before it was adopted, maintaining that it was the public’s right to be heard.
Resident Natalia Ioffe said that speakers more often than not try to be concise and write what they have to so say, noting that three minutes is not enough time especially for immigrants who often need time to translate in their heads.
Esther Wintner suggested that the council meet more frequently or restructure its meetings to reduce the meeting lengths.
“When there is an issue, give the public time to react,” she said. “Listen to what we have to say and represent us … you should be listening to us even if you don’t like what we say.”
According to Council President Joyce Watterman, who sponsored the ordinance, the new time limit was proposed because meetings often run late into the evening or into the early morning because of the number of people who address the council. She says this leads to people leaving without being heard because they can’t wait to speak and thus does not provide everyone a fair opportunity to be heard.
“Without appropriate and rational limitations, the rights of all members of the public is diminished when so many who wish to be heard cannot be,” the ordinance states.
Funding the arts
As if to illustrate her point, more than 20 residents spoke for nearly an hour and 30 minutes on a second reading ordinance which will ask taxpayers via referendum if they want the city to establish a new tax in order to better fund the arts.
If the referendum is approved, the tax would be two cents per $100 of the assessed property value which would go to an Arts and Culture Trust Fund. It would act as a funding source for nonprofit art organizations in the city, like the city’s Open Space Trust Fund.
The tax revenue will be used to support creative cultural activities, including performance, visual, fine arts, music, dance, graphic design, film, digital media, video, architecture, urban design, humanities, literature, arts and culture education, historic preservation, museum curation, crafts, and folk arts.
Members of Jersey City’s artist community urged the council to allow residents to vote on the measure emphasizing the importance of supporting the arts, the impact art education has on children, and the positive impact art programming has on the local economy.
Resident Atim Annette Oton who curates for the Greenville Arts Walk said, “Art changes people. It heals people.”
She said the city has a diverse artist community but that the community has no support to help it grow other than art patrons.
Olga Levina, art director of the Jersey City Theater Company, said currently there is no funding for the arts and what funding they do receive from the county in the form of grants is minimal.
“In order for us to succeed we need the support of people,” she said. “We need your support.”
Sonja Garlin whose daughter attends Nimbus Dance said art education builds self-confidence and self-esteem.
“Dance played a crucial part, an important part in developing who she is,” she said.
The council passed the ordinance unanimously.