Meadville Tribune

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February 20, 2013

FULL TEXT: County commissioners’ proposed public participation policy

MEADVILLE — Editor’s note: Below is a copy of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners’ proposed public participation policy. Commissioners are seeking public comment on the draft policy as soon as possible.

Written comments may be delivered to the county commissioners’ office at the county courthouse, 903 Diamond Park, Meadville, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; mailed to Crawford County Board of Commissioners, 903 Diamond Park, Meadville, Pa., 16335; or emailed to Cheri Porter-Jackson, chief clerk of Crawford County at

Notice is hereby given that the board of commissioners recognizes the value to county governance of the general public’s need for comment and inquiry on county issues and the importance of involving members of the public in commissioners’ meetings. The commissioners also recognize their responsibility for a recognized structure for conducting county-related business and the necessity to conduct same in an orderly, efficient and transparent manner.

With this recognition, the commissioners shall, through the adoption of the accompanying resolution, establish clearly articulated guidelines for genuine public participation at both commissioners’ work sessions as well as the commissioners’ regular (business) meetings, the latter in which all manner of essential county business is transacted and recorded.

To that end, and in order to establish a fair and orderly expression of public comment, the commissioners shall provide a clearly defined opportunity for residents, business interests, taxpayers (at large) to comment on matters of concern relative to any official action(s) or deliberations before the commissioners prior to final action by the board of commissioners at a commissioners’ regular (business) meeting.

With the above guiding principle, and in order to facilitate this important exchange of expressions from the public, the following will be in evidence from this date forward, and as per the attached resolution. Specifically:

General background

Work sessions: In its transaction of business, the county commissioners host a work session every Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room. At these work sessions, any and all matters of potential business are presented and outlined by Ddepartment heads — or in some cases, affiliate agency heads, not-for-profits, economic development groups, state agencies and the like. At times these are in the form of updates, with no official action pending. In any event, it is at these work sessions that potential business is disseminated and discussed to the board of commissioners. These sessions provide the public with the requisite background and opportunity to both be informed and, in some cases, ask questions, offer comments or concerns and generally interface, with the process of county government.

Regular (business) meetings: It is at these formal, recorded meetings that the actual business of the county is transacted with action by the board of commissioners. These meetings are held the first and third Thursday of a given month at 9:30 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room. It is the goal of the county to conduct its business in a framework that both addresses a given issue with enough background presented to offer the public and understanding of what is being presented and transacted while moving this business in an efficient, orderly and transparent fashion. At both the work sessions and the regular (business) meeting, it is the goal of the board of commissioners to offer the public a genuine, reasonable and recognizable process for both interfacing with the process as well as an opportunity to offer comments on the business at hand. It is in that spirit that the following is offered.

Work session (every Tuesday — unless otherwise noted)

1. The commissioners shall require that any and all public comments be made at/near the conclusion of each work session. These can be informal in nature and address any range of comment or concern with an item of business on the official agenda, or an item of general comment as this may relate to county business, policy, practices or the like.

2. While it is not necessary to give formal notification for public comment at a work session, it is requested that comments questions or concerns relative to potential or pending county business be made at that time. Other matters of general public interest may be presented at that time. In every instance, the board of commissioners request that comments be made with a recognition of time constraints on county staff as well as a gesture of courtesy to those in attendance that may desire to offer comment as well. The chairman of the board of commissioners will allocate sufficient time for (any) public comment at a given work session and reserves the right to limit any comment that either exceeds a reasonable time frame or otherwise determines that the comment is not germane to either the business at hand or is of a venue that cannot reasonably be accommodated through a work session. In the latter, the member of the public will be offered a venue that best suits his/her comments in the spirit of both accommodating the public while offering a suitable course of action that is outside of the framework of general county governance.

3. If, due to extenuating circumstances, the commissioners determine there is not sufficient time at a given work session for public comments, the comment period will be deferred to the next work session or, is scheduled, a special meeting prior to the next regularly scheduled regular (business) meeting.

4. The chairman of the board of commissioners shall be charged with following and/or enforcing the commissioners policy for the public interface element at work sessions.

5. Whenever an issue or issues as identified by a member of the public is subject to remediation under policies and procedures of the commissioners, they shall be referred to the administrative agent or department head and dealt with iii accordance with those policies and procedures and within organizational structure of the County — and if such a referral and/or remedy is in evidence.

6. The commissioners require that public participants be either residents or taxpayers of Crawford County; anyone representing a recognized group in the broader community; any representative of a firm eligible to bid on materials or services solicited by the commissioners; any state agency or municipal representative; any department head or county employee with business or potential business before the board of commissioners. This may be amended on a case-by-case basis or as otherwise dictated by the group or individual before the board of commissioners.

Regular (business) meeting (every first and third Thursday — unless otherwise noted)

1. Department heads, any person representing a recognized group in the broader community; any representative of a firm eligible to bid on materials or services solicited by the Commissioners; any state agency or municipal representative as well as any individual with business or public comments before the board of commissioners shall contact the chief clerk three days in advance of the regular meeting in order to be on the meeting agenda. The name and address of the participant, group affiliation, if appropriate, and topic to be discussed must be provided. No nonresident will be allowed to speak at a regular meeting unless granted prior approval by the board of commissioners. Multiple requests by different persons representing the same group will not be honored. Accordingly, any group wishing to address the commissioners should select a spokesperson who can express the views of the collective body.

2. All participants at a regular meeting shall be recognized by the chairman of the board of commissioners (or in his absence, the vice chairman) and must preface their comments by an announcement of their name, topic of discussion and group affiliation if appropriate.

3. At no point in time during a regular meeting will department heads, or a duly recognized Individual making a presentation on a matter of county business, be ‘cross-examined,’ or otherwise questioned by a member of the public. If there are questions, these shall be submitted in writing to the chairman of the board of commissioners as a possible topic of discussion at a subsequent work session. Any such questions shall be at the discretion of the chairman of the board of commissioners in terms of follow up measures.

4. The commissioners retain the right to refuse permission to any individual to speak at a regular meeting to address the same subject matter discussed at a previous meeting.

5. Each presentation made by a member of the general public will occur at/near the conclusion of a regular meeting and shall be limited to five minutes duration. The chairman of the board of commissioners reserves the right to waive this requirement on a case-by-case basis and with regard to the interest of the general public interest if a presentation cannot genuinely fit within the allotted five minute duration.

6. No participant may speak during the meeting more than once on the same topic.

7. All comments and statements shall be directed to the chairman of the board of commissioners and no participant may address or question Commissioners individually.

8. The portion of the meeting during which participation of the public is invited to speak shall be limited to 30 minutes total.

9. Electronic recording devices and cameras, in addition to those used as official recording devices, shall be permitted at regular meetings.

10. No political placards, advertisements, handouts or banners will be permitted within the commissioners’ meeting room during a regular meeting as part of any presentation.

11. The regular meeting agenda and any and all pertinent documents shall be available to the press as well as the general public at the regular meetings. In the unlikely event that an item of business is not immediately available, it shall be made available in the shortest time for reasonable copy and dissemination to any Interested Party or the press.

12. The chairman of the board of commissioners may:

a. Interrupt or terminate a participant’s statement when the statement is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, threatening, derogatory, obscene or irrelevant.

b. Request any individual to leave the meeting when that person does not observe reasonable decorum.

c. Request the assistance of sheriff deputies to remove a disorderly person when his/her conduct interferes with the orderly progress of the meeting.

d. Call a recess or adjourn to another time when the lack of public decorum interferes with the orderly conduct of the meeting.

e. Waive these rules with the approval of the board of commissioners.

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