Voting and public comment procedure debated during Rules and Bylaws

Published 8:50 am Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Rules and Bylaws Committee discussed tightening the rules surrounding public comments during full commission meetings Tuesday evening.

Part of the discussion surrounded enforcing existing rules that limit speakers to five minutes per public comment.

“I think we already have access to a timer,” chairman Randall Jenkins said of the current Roll Call Pro system.

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The five-minute rule has become a source of debate because of recent commission meetings, in which members of the public have taken to giving other speakers their allotted time to speak, such as comments about Recovery Soldiers or former county mayor Leon Humphrey a few weeks ago.

“The way Planning does public comments is you have to call and request to be on the agenda,” Jenkins said.

In the past, public comments were not possible during full commission. Instead, public comments were restricted to committee meetings, and these committees would invite particularly important speakers to be on the full commission agenda after that point.

Commission chairman Ray Lyons said he asked for this conversation to occur because he feels like he “needs some teeth” to better enforce the rules that are already there.

These rules include the ability to have people removed from the meeting if they are unwilling to follow the five-minute rule.

“It is going to get further and further out of hand,” Lyons said.

Brad Johnson pointed out Lyons already has the “teeth” to do that.

He further said commissioners have never been allowed to ask questions or respond to public comments, no matter the reason.

“You have heard me implement,” Lyons said. “You have heard me warn, and you have heard me say ‘One more time, and you are out of here.’”

Johnson said recent violations of proper public comment policy have embarrassed not just Chairman Lyons, but also the commission as a whole.

“I think it is very, very disrespectful for someone to get the same amount of time as everybody else, be told that amount of time is up, and refuse to stop speaking and speak all the way back to your seat,” Ginger Holdren said.

The committee voted unanimously to remove the ability to yield time, either from the audience or the commissioners. The rules surrounding a five-minute time limit for each public comment, including the ability of the chair to remove those who do not respect those rules, remain in effect.

The committee also held a presentation on the new version of Roll Call Pro. This new version comes with tablet and smartphone support. The new version offers improvements both from the commissioners’ side and the clerk’s, who now has an easier time keeping track of various motions and discussions. The program also generates a text file of every motion and vote that took place once the session is closed, making recording the minutes easier after the fact.

The committee unanimously voted in favor of purchasing the newest version at a three-year contract that includes two extra years for free. The contract will cost $3,995 each of the first two years and $1,200 for each subsequent year, representing a long-term savings for the county.