Franklin County commissioners announced this week they are putting a temporary halt to public comments altogether, in part because of three separate lawsuits which have been filed against the county in the past months.
“It is a shame we live in such a litigious world,” Commissioner Terry Wilson said. “Some of the freedoms we enjoy are being taken advantage of.”
The commission is the defendant in three suits currently filed in both state circuit court, and in federal court.
The Labadie Environmental Organization and several Labadie area property owners are suing to have the county’s landfill land use codes tossed out.
The commission also is facing a suit from three other citizens over its long-standing policy of authorizing a single signature to be made on contract documents.
The third suit, the most recent, was filed against the commission by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court over secular prayers said by Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer and others at the beginning of weekly commission meetings.
Griesheimer said the decision to disallow comments for the time being came at the advice of several legal counselors.
Commissioner Ann Schroeder said the lawsuits are the reason for the policy change.
“We’re trying to make it work for everybody. We’re dedicated to trying to do that and to let everyone have their voice,” Schroeder said.
She said the commission will likely approve a new public comment policy next week.
That policy will mirror that of school boards and other entities in which people will be allowed to comment on agenda items, but those wishing to ask the commission or other county officials about other county business will have to ask to have their issue placed on the agenda in advance.
Schroeder said the policy works well for other governmental entities while still giving citizens an opportunity to address what they feel is important.
“I think it will be a win-win for everybody,” she said.
County Counselor Mark Vincent said there will be a set procedure for people to follow to request business be placed on the commission’s agenda.