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Atascadero public comment change raises public worries 

Feel free to ask all the questions you want of the Atascadero City Council, just don’t expect any lengthy responses.

Atascadero City Clerk Marcia Torgerson changed wording in the description of public comment at city meetings and is feeling some backlash. But it’s not that big of a deal, Torgerson told New Times, because nothing’s really changing.

“I change the explanations on that agenda all the time … so I just added that as a little reminder to everybody,” Torgerson said.

Specifically, the little reminder now reads on city agendas: “Comments made during Community Forum will not be a subject of discussion.”

The rhetoric tweaks caused public backlash from people who felt Torgerson was not only violating the Brown Act (the state law that dictates how public meetings should be conducted), but trying to limit public comment. Residents have rebelled against the change by writing letters to the editor in the Atascadero News. At least one resident, outspoken activist David Broadwater, planned to address the issue at the City Council’s Aug. 9 meeting. (New Times went to press before the scheduled meeting.)

“Denying, on the one hand, that the ability of the public to interact with their elected and appointed officials is being restricted while, on the other hand, demonstrating that restricting that ability is exactly what’s going on, Ms. Torgerson has shown that’s been the plan all along,” Broadwater said in a written comment to New Times.

Torgerson said she made the change because of recent meetings in which councilmembers have held lengthy discussions to respond to questions raised during public comment. However, she said, the Brown Act states that the City Council should not discuss items that aren’t on the agenda. She said the change was made to comply with the Brown Act and public comment will not be restricted.

“It’s the exact opposite; we’re trying not to violate the Brown Act,” she said.

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