With the New Year and new county government comes a new public participation policy for Pickens County.
During the Pickens County Board of Commissioners’ meeting last week, the board unveiled its new public participation policy. Previously, under the sole commissioner government, citizens were permitted to make public comments to the commissioner at the end of the meeting, after all agenda topics had been discussed, and with no time limit. But, with the new form of government, under the multi-person board, public commentary now comes at the beginning of the meeting, before any agenda are discussed and includes a time limit.
During the meeting, Commission Chair Robert Jones presented the new policy, reading the policy aloud. The new policy consists of six tenets, ranging from citizens’ requirements to pre-register to time limits. In the first part of the policy, the board requires citizens wishing to address the board during a meeting to sign-up at least five days prior to the regular monthly meeting. Citizens must also clearly state the topic or issue they wish to address. Previously, under the sole commissioner format, no sign-up was required. The policy also establishes a time-limit. Under the new policy, public comments are restricted to five minutes. Prior to the new policy and form of government, the length of public comments was unlimited. The policy goes on to state that the total time for citizen participation is 20 minutes.
According to County Attorney Philip Landrum III the reason for the time-limit is to allow the board to complete its public agenda in a timely manner. In a previous discussion, Landrum had also explained the pre-registry or sign-up component of the policy allows the board to identify a recurring issue, at which point the board could hold a public forum specifically to address that issue.
Towards the end of the meeting, though, Citizen Gary Copeland questioned the new arrangement. Arriving late, after the policy was read aloud, Copeland asked for clarification on some of the finer points of the policy.
“So, the discussion (public comments) is before the meeting—before we learn what’s in the meeting,”
Copeland said, pointing out that placing public comments at the beginning of the meeting prevents citizens from commenting on any of the agenda items or other topics discussed during the meeting. Chairman Jones, however, said the comments would pertain to items discussed in the previous meeting. Copeland also questioned the sign-up requirement, asking for clarification on the requirements for special called meetings. Interjecting, Landrum said it would be unlikely that called meetings would allow public participation.
“We’re not trying to block everybody out,”
“but there is a certain procedure that we’re going to have to follow with a multi-person board---and we’re just trying to set it up the best we can.”
Copeland’s issue, though, was not with the policy per se, but with placing public commentary at the beginning of the meeting. Although the board did not discuss moving public commentary to another part of the meeting, Chairman Jones reiterated the board’s open door policy, saying citizens can always email their concerns to the commissioners.