Meadville Tribune

March 17, 2013

SUNDAY ISSUE: Public not commenting on guidelines

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — The lack of formal public commentary has left the Crawford County Board of Commissioners a bit perplexed after a second draft of guidelines for public comment at the commissioners’ meetings and work sessions was posted on Tuesday.

“I thought we’d get more,” Commissioner Jack Lynch said Friday when asked if he was disappointed. “I hope we get some input.”

The changes from the first to second draft took public concerns into consideration by removing a requirement of three-day advance notice to address the board at meetings; and adding two public comment periods at meetings — one on agenda items at the start of the meeting and another on items of general county interest near the close of the meeting.

All three commissioners and Cheri Porter-Jackson, the county’s chief clerk, said they’ve not received any formal comment from the public since revised guidelines were posted formally on Tuesday.

“I’d like to hear more (from the public),” Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. said Friday.

“We’ve incorporated changes (asked by the public and commissioners),” Commissioner C. Sherman Allen said of why he thought there has been a lack of additional comment. “Also, the rules can be waived by the chairman.”

The revised guidelines were posted Tuesday outside the commissioners’ meeting room at the Crawford County Courthouse in Meadville as well as on a bulletin board near the entrance to the courthouse for the next 30 days for public comment.

The new version of the guidelines also are available at the commissioners’ office at the courthouse; online at the county’s website and at meadvilletribune.com. The guidelines will be revised as necessary based on any public comment received, according to commissioners.

Crawford County isn’t the only local governmental body with guidelines for public comment at its meetings. Meadville City Council, Crawford Central School Board, West Mead Township and others have set up guidelines on public comment.

The commissioners hold 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.

Under the guidelines, commissioners will allow an individual or group up to three minutes to ask questions about agenda items prior to the meeting. At the close of the meeting, a person may have 10 minutes to comment, while public participation will be limited to 30 minutes.

Commissioners said they welcome comment and have no concerns with public comment or questions at the weekly Tuesday work sessions.

The guidelines are to try to bring some order to their twice-monthly public board meetings and not inhibit public comment.

The current board of commissioners and the previous board of commissioners have been hit with questions from audience members on many agenda items as they come up for action at a meeting.

If no major revisions need to be made to the revamped guidelines, commissioners hope to put them in place for their April 18 meeting.

However, commissioners said if changes are made, the timetable for implementation would be delayed.



Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.



Partial list of proposed guidelines

The Crawford County Board of Commissioners 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.

Below is a partial list of revised public participation guidelines proposed by the board. A full copy of the guidelines is available at the commissioners’ office in the Crawford County Courthouse and at meadvilletribune.com.

Work sessions

-Commissioners request comments be made with a recognition of time constraints on county staff as well as a courtesy to others in the audience that may wish to comment. The chairman will allocate sufficient time for public comment but reserves the right to limit comment that exceeds a reasonable time, isn’t germane to business at hand or cannot be reasonably accommodated at a work session.

-If commissioners determine there isn’t sufficient time for public comments, the comment period will be deferred to the next work session or a special meeting prior to the next regularly scheduled business meeting.

Regular meetings

-People wishing to speak to the board need to contact the chief clerk in advance of the meeting.

-Each person will be limited to 10 minutes, but that time limit 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.

-Comments must be addressed to the chairman of the board.

-The chairman may interrupt or terminate a statement if it is too lengthy, personally directed, abusive, threatening, derogatory, obscene or irrelevant.



You can comment

 

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 cporter-jackson@co.crawford.pa.us.