HERMISTON - People who attend Hermiston City Council meetings will be able to air their comments, concerns and questions at the beginning of the meeting, rather than at the very end, thanks to a change approved Monday night.

The city council voted unanimously to move up the "unscheduled communications" part of the meeting so people can speak shortly after the opening of the meeting, and just after any public hearings that might be scheduled during any given meeting. Before the change, people were not invited to speak until near the end of a meeting, except during public hearings.

The idea is to make speaking out at meetings more convenient, said council member Harmon Springer, who proposed the change.

"I think it makes the council meetings a little more user friendly," Springer said. "The citizens are our customers. We work for them."

Springer estimated he's attended hundreds of council meetings. Before he became a member of the council, he was the manager of KOHU radio and covered council activities for the station's news program. Many times, meetings would run so late that some people who had come to speak had already packed up and gone home before the council would get to the time for comments and questions.

"Citizens sometimes have had to wait a long time to make comments. Sometimes the council won't get to them for hours and hours, and everyone's tired and some people have gone home already," he said. "I think we need to make sure the citizens of our town have an opportunity to ask questions, so they know that's going on."

Springer said he hopes the change will help residents feel more welcome at the meetings.

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