Costa Mesa Mayor Eric Bever wants to push public comments from the beginning to the end of City Council meetings.

Critics, however, are calling the proposal an attempt to stifle community voices.

The City Council is slated to vote Tuesday on whether to modify the order of business. If approved, the period when the public can speak on any issue it wants to would take place closer to the conclusion of meetings, rather than close to the beginning.

"This will be done to allow the City Council to get to the critical items of the day and provide further clarification to the public regarding current events taking place within the community," according to the staff report.

Bever did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment.

Councilwoman Wendy Leece, who opposes Bever's proposal, said she values the public comments and sees the resolution saying: "You don't respect their opinions."

"This is going to hurt a lot of people, and it's a sad day for Costa Mesa if this passes," she said, adding that she has no problem with public comments lasting so long. "Our job, when we're making so many changes, is to give residents their three minutes, even if it takes all night. That's what I signed up for.

Meetings lately have run about four hours, with public comments often taking up about 90 minutes.

If approved, public comments would fall after new business and before the city CEO report, while council members' reports, comments and suggestions would be moved up before the consent calendar and after special presentations.

Speakers still could address specific items on each agenda as items come up. The public comments period is reserved for issues not on the agenda.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer said he thinks Bever is looking to get the meetings back on schedule. He pointed out that meetings beginning at 6 p.m. have stretched to midnight and beyond.

Righeimer said he is looking forward to discussing the item and finding a way to balance the need for public comments with the council's need to take care of the city's business.

"I understand his concern about a couple hours of public comment and we don't get any business done," he said. " I think there needs to be a balance."

Righeimer said that comments are often repetitious.

"People got to be heard and we got to hear it, but it doesn't mean we have to hear the same statement 20 times," he said.

Orange County Employees Assn. spokeswoman Jennifer Muir said she sees the move as a way to diminish public opinion.

"This is an assault on democracy and freedom of speech, plain and simple," she said. "Regardless of what your opinion is, the public should have the first priority."

Robin Leffler, president of Costa Mesans for a Responsible Government, said the move would make it impossible for people with children, physical disabilities, jobs and the elderly to stay until the end of the meeting for their chance to talk.

"I'm appalled — I can't believe the council would attempt to do that," she said. "It seems like an obvious attack on our 1st Amendment rights of being heard, because a lot of people won't be physically able to stay that late."

britney.barnes@latimes.com

Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

If You Go

What: Costa Mesa City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: City Hall, 77 Fair Drive

Information: To check out the full agenda, visit http://www.ci.costa-mesa.ca.us