Speaking at your city (or county) commission meeting
City commission/city council meetings are public forums where local elected officials (your mayor and city commissioners/councilmembers) discuss issues and pass resolutions and ordinances. If you have concerns about single-use plastic and/or plastic pollution, you can usually express them during the public comment portion of your city meeting. Sometimes this is called “Citizen Comments.”
During this time, you can talk to your council members directly to let them know how you feel on a subject. Most city councils will let you speak about any topic, while a few only allow you to speak about a topic if it is already on the agenda. First, try asking your city commissioner to place this topic on an upcoming agenda for discussion. You might even ask your city commissioner for an ordinance. You don’t have to be an adult to speak at a city meeting or submit comments. Even kids can do it! Youth presentations can influence local elected officials.
If you have trouble getting this item on your city agenda for discussion, ask your city’s sustainability department for assistance. You may be asked to present this topic at a citizen sustainability advisory board meeting first.
Is a vote taking place? Sign up to speak on that agenda item. See sample public comments here.
Go to Your City Council’s Website for Information about City Meetings
- Check your city government’s website to see when city council/commission meetings are scheduled. During an emergency such as a pandemic, your city meeting might be conducted online. Many city council meetings are held twice a month on a set day of the week. Sometimes, a city may only allow citizen comments once a month.
- You should also find out the instructions about how to make citizen comments at an upcoming meeting. If it’s a virtual meeting, you might be able to submit written comments or a pre-recorded comment. If it’s in person, you might have to sign up (fill out a speaker card) just before the meeting begins. If you sign up to speak, and the topic is on the agenda, you can write the item number on the agenda. If it not on the agenda, you should specify that you are speaking during open public comments. You should also find out if there is a time limit. Some cities only allow 2-3 minutes per citizen.
- If you cannot find meeting times online, you may need to call your city clerk to find out when meetings take place.
Before the Meeting
- If you are not allowed to make public comments because the topic of plastic is not on the agenda, you could ask your mayor and/or city council member to add it to an upcoming city agenda. You could do this by asking for a discussion, asking to make a presentation, or asking for a resolution or ordinance (legislation).
- See if any other residents who care about this issue will also sign up to make citizen comments. Perhaps a local neighborhood association will give you a letter of support or send a board member to speak.
- If your city requests it, before the meeting begins, fill out a speaker’s card and turn it in so that you will be called to speak. If the comments are made online because it is a virtual city meeting, make sure you submit them before the deadline.
- Make sure that your comments meet the word limit or time limit specified by the city.
During the Meeting
- Dress professionally so that people take you seriously.
- Many times, you will need to wait until your name is called to make your public comments. A few cities run their meetings more informally, and they may just ask the audience if anyone would like to make a comment. Counties will call you by name.
- If the topic of plastic is on the agenda, you will be called to make your comment when that item comes up for discussion. If it is not on the agenda, you will be called during general/open citizen comments.
- State your name and address. City council members like to know if you live in their district. Some cities don’t require you to be a resident of that town to be able to speak. However, if you aren’t a resident of that city, you should state why you care about this issue in their city. For example, “I’ve been coming here to Sunnyville to do beach cleanups, and I pick up a lot of plastic litter.” Or, “I go out to eat at restaurants in Sunnyville, and I see too many plastic straws being used.”
- Explain the problem and explain what you would like them to do. If your goal is that you would like them to pass an ordinance banning single-use EPS foam on city property, then state that.
- Sometimes there will be a clock in the council chambers that will count down the minutes and seconds until your time is up. Make sure you are done speaking by the time it buzzes.
- Some city council members respond to citizen comments, while some city councils make it a point not to respond to general comments.
After the meeting
- Follow up with an email. Remind your mayor and city commissioner about your citizen comments and what you would like them to do. Offer to be available for a phone call or meeting.
- You may wish to reach out to reporters to get media attention on this issue.
Sample citizen comments for your city meeting:
My name is ____ and I am a resident of _____. I’m concerned about plastic pollution, and I’m asking you to take action to reduce unnecessary single-use plastics.
- An estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year. That’s roughly the equivalent of dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute.
- Plastic harms marine species and shore birds. Plastic hurts and kills endangered and threatened species.
- Plastics break up into tiny pieces called microplastics, which are eaten by fish.
- Plastics threaten human health.
- Plastic is a climate issue. They generate heat-trapping gases at every stage of their life cycle.
- Plastic is an environmental justice issue.
- Plastic litter travels through storm drains and also clogs storm drains. Cleaning up litter can be costly.
- Plastic pollution is bad for tourism and has other negative economic impacts.
- A meager 9 percent of all plastic waste generated has been recycled. Recycling alone is not enough to solve the plastics crisis. To have an impact, we must reduce the amount of single-use plastic being produced at the source.
- Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output, which will increase pollution.
There are some state preemptions, but there are still a number of different ordinances that you can pass. More than 30 municipalities in Florida have already taken action on single-use plastics. Most recently, the town of _____.
I would like to see our city pass _____________.