Meadville Tribune

February 22, 2013

Commissioners' meeting participation proposals draw ire

By Keith Gushard
Associated Press

MEADVILLE — A draft of guidelines for public participation at the Crawford County Board of Commissioners’ weekly work sessions and twice-monthly meetings is drawing criticism from the public.

At Thursday’s commissioner board meeting, Sam Byrd of Meadville said that under the draft guidelines a person wishing to speak at one of the two monthly board meetings must contact the board three days in advance of the meeting. However, Byrd noted the weekly public work session, where an issue may come up, is only two days in advance of the public meeting.

The board holds public work sessions each Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the courthouse and formal public board meetings the first and third Thursday of each month at 9:30 a.m. The twice-monthly public board meetings are when the board takes official action on items such as paying bills, contracts and other items.

Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. told Byrd there would be public input on the proposed guidelines and potential changes and the possibility of a work session dedicated to discuss the proposed guidelines.

Weiderspahn said the county would give 30 days public notice of the final guidelines on public participation before they took effect.

“I see a lot inconsistencies and variations in this document relative to the Sunshine Act,” Byrd said of the proposal as it now stands, referring to Pennsylvania’s open meetings law. “I won’t get into that right now.”

Byrd said he’s also concerned whether the public still will be able to bring issues of public concern before the county.

Byrd is a former official visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society who frequently has expressed concern at county commissioner meetings and work sessions over issues at the Crawford County prison.

Gary Young of the Guys Mills area, too, has been a frequent visitor to commissioner meetings and work sessions for the past several years. Young has expressed his concern over operations of the county’s Children and Youth Services, District Attorney and Sheriff offices.

Young said the reason he goes to the commissioner meetings and work sessions is he hasn’t gotten answers to his questions from department heads.

When it took office in January 2012, the board of commissioners said it would consider enacting a written policy on public participation.

Both the current board of commissioners as well as the previous board of commissioners has been peppered with questions from audience members on many agenda items as they come up for action at a meeting.

Commissioners are hoping to have the public participation guidelines in place in April.

Among the proposed public participation guidelines up for consideration at the twice-monthly Crawford County Board of Commissioners public meetings are:

- Each person will be limited to five minutes, but the time may be waived by the chairman.

- No person may speak more than once on the same topic during the meeting.

- Public participation will be limited to 30 minutes total.

- 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.

The full text of the proposed guidelines is posted at

Written comments about Crawford County Board of Commissioners’ proposed public comment policy 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