Residents wishing to address their county government might find some of their comments off limits.
The Franklin County Board of Commissioners considered this week an addition to the public comments section of its agendas, restricting what can and cannot be discussed during public comment sessions during meetings.
The policy would include restricting public comment to “matters of County Commission business, and public comment is not permitted in regard to personnel matters or on pending legal matters.”
Lisa Johnson, county administrator and counselor, was asked by the board to develop a draft of the policy during a board study session last month. Board Chairman Steve Harris brought the need for a policy change to the attention of the board at that same meeting. He said he was in favor of drafting the policy.
“This is our meeting. [Public comment] is for the purpose of county business,” Harris said. “It’s not an object for somebody to have a platform to rail against an individual or talk about things that, quite frankly, we as a county commission don’t have the power to do anything about.”
Using public comment to address items over which the board has no control does not help to “move the business of the county forward,” he said.
A second commissioner also voiced approval of the agenda addition.
“In no way do we want to impede the flow of good ideas,” Colton Waymire, commissioner, said. “We just want to maintain a professional atmosphere.”
Previously, the only restriction on public comments was a 5–minute time limit, but the policy said nothing about what a person was allowed to discuss.
The Ottawa City Commission has a statement on its agenda regarding public comment similar to the county’s new draft.
“Persons who wish to address the City Commission regarding items not on the agenda and that are under the jurisdiction of the City Commission may do so when called upon by the Mayor. Comments on personnel matters and matters pending in court or with other outside tribunals are not permitted,” the city’s policy states.
The county board did not discuss how the new policy would be enforced. However, Johnson said, the chairman, because he runs the meeting, reserves the right to ask people to discontinue their comments if they are in violation of the policy.
All five members of the board indicated a consensus on the policy addition. Johnson said with the board’s consensus, she would add it to coming agendas.