Political discourse at Franklin County commission meetings has reached a new low.
That’s according to the county’s top elected official, Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer, who Tuesday said the county’s involvement in a lawsuit filed two weeks ago, and negative comments from the three men listed as plaintiffs in the suit, led commissioners to curtail public comments not related to the body’s weekly meeting agendas.
He did not specifically call out the men, Eric Reichert and Art LeBeau, both of Villa Ridge, and Ron Keeven, New Haven, but did speak about both the lawsuit and a “small group of people” who have regularly challenged the commission’s actions on a wide variety of actions.
“It is just unfathomable to me that during the course of our normal business… well I’d never fathom this commission would be involved in a lawsuit over something millions of people do every year,” Griesheimer said.
The three men filed the suit challenging the commission’s power to, by commission order, delegate a single individual, Griesheimer, to sign documents authorizing refinancing of the county’s certificates of participation, or COPs.
Reichert and LeBeau have regularly told commissioners, during public meetings, that they disagree with the county’s decision to borrow money without a public vote.
“The actions of two weeks ago cause me to lose a lot of sleep,” Griesheimer said. “I love working with people and trying to find common ground, but when there is none, that’s not good government.
“I just cannot believe that everything we do is wrong with a small group of people,” he said.
Griesheimer said members of the public won’t be allowed to comment during the commission’s regular weekly meetings unless it is on a topic on the agenda. The limitation is subject to change.
Reichert was the only citizen to speak during the meeting, asking commissioners about an amendment to a contract for a bridge project on Sapsucker Road.
Reichert asked about traffic counts, the number of residents on Sapsucker Road, the original estimated cost of the bridge project and the current estimate.
Commissioners did not respond to his inquiries.
Tuesday wasn’t the first time the county commission has placed restrictions on what people can say during the public comment portion of the meetings.
Ed Hillhouse, the county’s presiding commissioner prior to Griesheimer, restricted comments from Keeven and others in 2010.
At that time, Keeven was running to replace Hillhouse, who did not seek a third term.
Keeven is running for associate commissioner this year against incumbent Terry Wilson.
Griesheimer also restricted comments from those running for county office, including Keeven, earlier this year.
Allowing public comments at governmental meetings, except public hearings, is not required by law.
The county commission began allotting time for the comments after Hillhouse took office.
“I hope and pray the discourse stops and we can somehow work toward the betterment of the citizens of the county as a whole,” Griesheimer said.