Public gets its say with new rules

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County commission agrees to do business as usual

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

A new state law that requires the public be given the opportunity to have a say in their government during public meetings has led to a new policy for the Levy County Commission — one that reads a lot like the way the commission already does business.

In its regular meeting Tuesday the commission unanimously adopted a resolution setting forth how items will be placed on its agenda, when and how the public can participate and even dealt with non-agenda items that come up in meetings, something consistently opposed by Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland. Johnson, who votes against hearing non-agenda items because they limit the public's opportunity to comment on such items, was out of town on Tuesday. 

The commission now calls for public comment at the beginning of the meeting on agenda items and then holds a second session later in the meeting for comment on any matter. If a person wants to be heard on a specific agenda item, the commission has forms in the meeting room that they ask the individual to fill out with their name, for the record,  and contact information, so the staff can follow up if necessary.   

The commission also allows citizens to raise a hand during a meeting and ask questions of the commission, staff or presenters. Thus, it has allowed for some free-wheeling discussions between the board and the public on issues. Most notable are the questions and comments by Renate and Barney Cannon, Dana Sheffield and Art Maruna, regular attendees and participants in commission meetings. 

The new policy will still allow ? only now the policy and its attendant procedures are written. 

County Attorney Anne Bast Brown said, “I wanted to incorporate how this board really conducts your meetings. Because you allow people to raise their hands and ask questions.” 

Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) said, “It kind of mirrors what we do. … It's pretty good as presented.”

Among the limitations incorporated into the policy, which the commission has worked to enforce in the past, are:

• Giving give the commission the ability, if a speaker is rambling on for the chairman to say stop

• Allows the chair to limit repetitious comments, and 

• Won't allow a person to transfer their remaining share of speaking time to another person.

In fact, the one big change that came up for discussion was an item over determining the final agenda. 

The proposed resolution said: “The Chair of the Board will have the final authority to determine the appropriate Board meeting agenda on which to place any proposed agenda item.”

Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5), said because of past history he did not want the chair to have the final say. 

“There was a time in the past where that could be very much abused,” Stevens said. “And I would like this to specifically say that the county coordinator has the authority.”

But Bell said a disagreement among commissioners would put the county coordinator in a very compromising position and he pointed out that Moody might want to retire ? “go fishing in a few years” leaving the commission with a new coordinator who would not work things out.

Moody said he won't put items on the agenda that he believes the commissioners are not ready to discuss and decide. 

While Stevens said the proposal was “food for thought. And I am not expecting to make a decision on this today,” the commission went ahead with a vote.