Wednesday, November 26, 2014

County mulls limiting public comments

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer | 2/1/2013

The county’s public comment policy might soon change.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners discussed at its Monday study session adding clarifications to the public comment policy. Steve Harris, board chairman, said he would like to see the policy include more specifics about what residents can bring to the board during public comment sessions.

The county’s public comment policy might soon change.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners discussed at its Monday study session adding clarifications to the public comment policy. Steve Harris, board chairman, said he would like to see the policy include more specifics about what residents can bring to the board during public comment sessions.

“There are comments on things the board of county commissioners truly does not have the authority to deal with,” Harris said.

Under current public comment rules, a resident has five minutes to address the board; bringing to its attention items that might have been unnoticed by the five-member governing body. The public comment policy, as listed on the board’s agendas, reads: “A citizen desiring to speak on an item not on the agenda may do so at this time. Discussion is limited to five minutes and the commission will not take action or discuss items at this time. Items introduced under ‘Public Comment’ may become agenda items at a later date.”

The policy does not stipulate what topics a resident can discuss.

After looking at other public entities’ policies, Harris said, other bodies provide specific stipulations about discussion topics. He said the county board policies he reviewed stated public comments had to be related to topics that were within the governance of that county board.

Limitations Harris suggested involved comments relating to personnel issues and past, present or potential litigation. He said the board does not have authority over elected officials, including dismissal of those officials from their duties.

“I think it would just take a little word-smithing to put it in there so those comments are focused and related to county business,” Harris said.

Colton Waymire, commissioner, agreed with Harris’ sentiments, adding that the public comment segment of the meeting is not meant to be a platform for inappropriate behavior or comments.

“If we want a professional government, we need a professional atmosphere,” Waymire said.

The board has the authority to make changes to its public comment policy, Lisa Johnson, county administrator and counselor, said. Johnson would be tasked with drafting the policy to the board’s specifications, she said, and she expected to have a draft for the board at its Feb. 11 study session. 

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