In its first public work session, the Pickens County Board of Commissioners discussed a new public participation policy for future meetings.
Previously, under the sole commissioner form of government, public comments were reserved for the end of the official meeting, with no time limit per participant or prior sign-up required. As the county moves to a new, multi-person form of government, however, the process may change.
The topic was briefly hashed out during the new board’s first work session this week, also a new feature of the county government. County Attorney Phillip Landrum III said if the board allows for public comments during its regular meeting, it should establish certain restrictions, specifically in the form of time limits.
“If you don’t (set time limits),”
“you’re pretty much at the public’s mercy as far as how long you have to let them speak. I’m not trying to argue against the free flow of ideas, but I am arguing for an efficient meeting.”
Landrum, who also serves as attorney for the Pickens County Board of Education, said the BOE permits three minutes for public comments per citizen. District One Commissioner Jerry Barnes said three to ten minutes seemed sufficient. Landrum noted that the board could also limit the total time of public participation during meetings, rather than allotting time restraints on individual comments.
He went on to suggest several other ways of approaching the policy. One way, he said, was to require participants to sign-up with the county before the meeting, where participants would identify their concerns. Landrum said the reason for this requirement is that if multiple participants sign up for the same topic, the board then could schedule a special called meeting to address that specific topic. Here, District Two Becky Denney questioned the pre-registry.
“What if people want to ask questions about something that comes up in that meeting?”
“…Maybe they want to ask us why we voted a certain way.”
Landrum said these types of questions can be asked after the meeting, saying he did not recommend commissioner responding to citizens during the meeting.
“The reason why I say this,”
“is if you say everybody’s only a allowed three minutes and somebody speaks for two minutes and fifty-nine seconds and you respond, giving him the ability to speak again, then you’re infringing on the freedom of speech rights of the other participants.”
The board can not vote on agenda items during work sessions. As such, no policy decisions were made pertaining to public policy this week. But, the board is expected to establish policy soon.