The Franklin County Commission on Tuesday voted 2-1 to approve a new policy for making public comments during meetings.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said comments must be regulated because certain citizens have abused the forum.
He and Commissioner Terry Wilson voted for the policy while Commissioner Ann Schroeder opposed it.
Under the new policy, citizens have to submit in writing a brief description of the issue they would like to bring before the commissioners during a public meeting.
This way, the commissioners can decide whether the issue the citizen wishes to discuss should be allowed.
Citizens would have to submit their comments for consideration the Wednesday prior to the Tuesday meeting.
In a prepared statement, resident Eric Reichert said, “The commission still controls any subject topic based solely upon whether the commission wishes to deal with the matter.”
This is only required for items not listed on the agenda. If an item is listed on the agenda, a citizen can speak about the matter at the start of the meeting without advance notice.
The new policy is actually more lenient than what had been in place. The former version did not allow any way in which a citizen could make a public comment about an item not listed on the agenda.
Resident Ron Keeven said it may have been better if the two new commissioners who take office in January voted on the policy.
Griesheimer said the two incoming commissioners, Tim Brinker and Mike Schatz, were in on the discussions about the policy and did not oppose it.
“They signed off on what we’re doing,” Griesheimer said.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said the commissioners want to view comments in advance to control redundant statements.
Griesheimer said the public comment section of meetings has been abused by certain citizens continually rehashing old issues.
Public comments are not supposed to be about harassing the commissioners, Griesheimer added.
Schroeder said she blames the commissioners and citizens for the poor communication. At times, the discourse has been angry and demeaning, she said.
“It’s been ugly from both sides,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said she is troubled by the wording in the policy that states a citizen can seek “permission” to be heard at a commission meeting.
Something is wrong if citizens can’t come together at a meeting and discuss issues as neighbors, she added.
Wilson asked Schroeder why she waited until Tuesday to object to the policy when it has been proposed for a while.
She responded that she does not object to the entire policy.
Griesheimer said there have been personal attacks lodged at the commissioners and county employees. He noted that the commissioners also have been threatened with lawsuits during meetings.
“It just seems like everything we do is wrong,” Griesheimer said.