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Washington Co. BOCC mulls public participation policy

The public participation policy was the hot topic when the Washington County Board of County Commissioners met in regular session on July 13.

County Attorney Matt Fuqua drafted an amended version of the current policy at the request of County Administrator Jeff Massey and presented the document commissioners for consideration.

The draft policy states any member of the public wishing to speak to the board on a matter that is not on the agenda should contact the administrator’s assistant and ask to be placed on the agenda, detailing the topic, at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.

The next portion of the draft states each individual shall have three minutes to speak on a proposition before the board and should sign in before the meeting begins in order to speak.  In cases of a group of people addressing the same topic, a spokesperson should be nominated to speak on the matter.  This particular provision is in the current policy but has not been consistently enforced.

The draft also states any public comment should be directed to the board chair, as it is “not a question and answer period.â€

Lastly, the draft states any public comment concerning individual county employees, other than those hired directly by the board – the attorney and administrator – shall not be entertained: “Any comment good or bad regarding a county employee will be directed to the Human Relations Department or the county administrator,†reads the draft.

“The statute requires the commission to allow public comment on an item that is to be voted on,†said Fuqua. “There is not a requirement to have a general ‘I want to talk about x,y,z’ unless it is on the agenda.â€

Commissioner Wesley Griffin made a motion to leave the policy as is. The motion died for lack of a second. Discussion ensued.

Chairman Tray Hawkins says his biggest issue lies with the signing up to speak on a matter before the board.

“I like the open dialogue not necessarily where they have to sign up at the beginning because our discussion here may trigger a thought they didn’t have before,†said Hawkins. “I feel like when we are open for discussion, we are open and that includes the taxpayers.â€

“You want to give the public a chance to speak,†said Commissioner Alan T. Bush. “But what you don’t want is to give anyone the ability to derail the meeting into chaos.â€

“I think if we adhere to the three minutes then a lot of the issues we have here will fall away,†said Commissioner David Pettis.

As discussion concluded, the board came to a consensus on moving forward with the policy. Commissioners stated they would like to do away with the 48 hours notice and  to  leave the employee discussion as is. They would also like to hold to the three minute rule. Fuqua is expected to bring a new draft to present at the next regular session meeting.

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners will meet again in a workshop at 9 a.m. on August 10.

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