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Rules Committee seeks best guidelines for public comment

Rules Committee members questioned the effectiveness of increasing public comment during county commission meetings.
“Public comment was one of the new commission’s goals,” Commissioner Robbie Tester reminded members during the March 17 meeting.
While offering a standing opportunity for public comment at some point on the agenda of the full board has been considered before but never implemented, Tester is advocating a request by the chairman at both the beginning and end of every meeting, in addition to periods before taking any votes or moving to the next item of business.
A good-faith response must be given to each person who speaks, according to Tester’s proposal, and the practice is to be followed at all committee meetings also.
“How would you see that working if a person had a complaint about a road, and should be going through the Highway Department or the Public Works Committee rather than addressing it on the floor with 25 commissioners?” Commissioner Mitch Meredith asked.
Tester said the decision on what action to take would be up to the chair.
“Here’s what I don’t want to see happen,” Commission Chair Greg Matherly said. “Someone talks for five minutes, and the chair says, ‘we’re sending you to the Safety Committee.’ I don’t want people to feel trapped in a government cycle.”
At the same time, Matherly said it is important to differentiate between a general comment and a request for help with a specific problem. “(Highway Superintendent) Johnny Deakins may not be there, and you’re not going to get what you want from us.”
Commissioner Joe Wise agreed. “An example of where the buses stop is something the commission can’t address,” he said. “And none of us can effectively speak (on behalf of) the commission if it’s something we’ve never voted on, which makes a good-faith response tricky.”
In addition, Wise pointed out, much of the business conducted during a commission meeting is of procedural nature, such as the approval of a $500 expense. “You’re wanting to apply the guidelines across the board,” he said.
Wise suggested a sign-in sheet that could be utilized by those who have spoken with the chair in advance and want to make a comment during the meeting. “If no one has signed up, you wouldn’t have to ask for public comment.”
Matherly said it may be better to organize the sign-in sheet by committees since those are where most of the resolutions fall, and the person could indicate which issue he or she would like to address.
County Attorney Tom Seeley will be asked to review the proposed guidelines and draft language that could be included in the formal rules of procedure that will be considered at next month’s committee meeting.