With one member blaming politics, the Franklin County Commission this week unanimously adopted a new policy for fielding comments from citizens during public meetings.
The new policy allows for members of the public to comment on commission orders or resolutions to be acted on during that meeting.
The policy applies only to public commission meetings, typically held each week on Tuesday mornings. It doesn’t apply to closed sessions, which the public cannot attend, or informal meetings or administrative working sessions.
Members of the public also can request comments be placed on an agenda.
“To present an item to the commission at a formal meeting the person desiring to be heard shall submit a request to the secretary of the county commission no later than 4 p.m. on the Wednesday preceding the meeting at which the person desires to be heard,” the policy states.
People must submit their name, address, phone number and email if available as well as a description of the nature of the issue they wish to present.
Commissioners can postpone requests to later meetings “if it is necessary to gather appropriate information with which to respond” and can disallow requests if the issues involve violating privacy rights or other information protected by law.
The policy states that no time limit will be imposed by the commission, but the commission can establish one, either in general or for particular individuals.
Commissioners previously have established such a time limit for only one such person, Eric Reichert, Villa Ridge, who has been given a five-minute limit for his comments.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said the policy was established begrudgingly.
“This is something I’m not thrilled about, but it is obvious that as time goes on, with the politics, it is not meant to be,” Griesheimer said.
“It is pretty sad that basically everything we do comes under scrutiny by someone,” he said.
Griesheimer singled out Ron Keeven — a New Haven business owner and candidate for the First District commission seat currently held by Terry Wilson — and “his friends.”
Griesheimer said the men, including Reichert and Art LeBeau, Villa Ridge, have made it difficult for commissioners to conduct business.
Keeven filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office last week regarding what he said is a violation of Missouri open meeting laws and the three men filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the county earlier this year regarding a policy used by counties across the state, which enables a single signatory to be designated to sign contractual documents.
Keeven said after this week’s commission meeting, when the policy was established, that it was unfair for Griesheimer to say the comments are only about politics, noting that he has been attending commission meetings for about five years.
Keeven ran for presiding commissioner in 2010, losing the Republican primary to Griesheimer.
Prior to adopting a new policy, how and when comments were allowed at the meetings, were subject to change, sometimes on a week-to-week basis.
The commission had typically let people comment on any issue at the beginning of its meetings.
Sometimes, such as while commissioners were deliberating adopting a policy establishing land use regulations for landfills, those comments were limited solely to agenda items.
The commission started allowing the public to comment at the meetings in recent years following the election of Ed Hillhouse. Griesheimer continued the policy. Both officials occasionally restricted comment.