05/02/07 — Board putting limit on those who comment

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Board putting limit on those who comment

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 2, 2007 2:01 PM

In a change of policy, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to limit county residents to only one three-minute comment per month, despite meeting every first and third week.

Written by county attorney Borden Parker at the board's request in April, the rules spell out the three-minute time limit, the ability of the board to ask a group to designate a single speaker to represent its viewpoints, the need for the board to maintain a quorum during the comment period and the need for the board to maintain order and a timely schedule during its meetings.

"These track what the statute allows. They just allow you to conduct your meetings," Parker said, explaining that the only thing the board is actually required to do, is hold a public comment period once a month.

And, he added, "These are your rules. You always have the right to change them."

He emphasized, though -- in response to queries from board members -- that the new rules do not restrict what people can talk about -- just that they can stand before the commissioners only once a month.

And despite protests from frequent speaker Tom Drew, the board emphasized that they are not trying to limit free speech or hinder communication between the commissioners and the rest of the county.

"The only reason we did it, we just want to make sure we don't have the same people coming up," commission chairman John Bell said. "We want to make sure we give everybody the same chance.

"We're not trying to restrict anybody's free speech. We're going to be as fair as we possibly can. We just don't want any one person to feel that's their platform every time we meet."

Other elected boards in the county do not have such a policy, however.

The Wayne County Board of Education meets the first Monday of every month and allows people to comment every meeting.

The Goldsboro City Council meets every first and third Monday, and it, too, allows people to speak at every meeting if they so desire.