06/19/08 — Duplin County commissioner's suggestion draws criticism

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Duplin County commissioner's suggestion draws criticism

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 19, 2008 1:47 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Tempers flared and some voices were raised Monday night after Duplin County Commissioner Reginald Wells suggested that the board and public would benefit if commissioners had some prior information about what people asking to be on their agenda wanted to talk about.

Wells made the suggestion after Dennis Clark of Rose Hill took the county's transportation department to task for being wasteful. The meeting was held in order for commissioners to approve the 2008-09 budget, which they did.

In Wayne County, anyone who asks to be on the commissioners' agenda is asked to submit in writing what they plan to talk about and how much time they think they will require. It has to be submitted at least one week prior to the meeting. County officials said the policy has been in place for years and they are not aware of the procedure having caused any problems.

Wayne, like Duplin, also sets aside a time during meetings for public comments.

Clark said he had been approached by county residents about speaking to commissioners. However, the information packet included with the board's agenda noted that Clark had been "invited' to speak by Commissioner David Fussell and it noted his subject, but not the specifics.

Clark urged a reduction in taxes and said the transportation department wastes money by letting vehicles idle.

Wells suggested Clark talk with Transportation Director Steve Moore, who was in the audience. He then added that he thought it would be beneficial for the board to have speakers provide information ahead of time to County Manager Mike Aldridge.

"I think that is fair," Wells said.

Such a policy would help the board ensure that the right county staff were present to help respond to the speaker's concerns.

His comments were jeered by many in the audience, who called his suggestion "censorship."

"It is just good business," Wells said. "You need to understand what they are talking about."

Wells' comments also were rebuked by board Chairman Harold Raynor.

Raynor said Wells was allowing his dislike for Fussell to show. Raynor told Wells that if it were him, or Commissioners L.S. Guy or Carey Turner who were talking that he (Wells) would not say anything.

Wells responded that Raynor was making a "blanket statement."

"David and I have agreed to disagree, but we are still friends. I respect him as a man," Wells said.

Fussell drew a round of applause when he said, "Some politicians think they are annointed and not appointed. Persons should have the right to speak without censorship or being denied access."

Later in the meeting, Guy broached the subject again.

"There needs to be an understanding that an individual can come before the board. We are not trying to stop anyone," Guy said.

He complimented Clark on his presentation. However, he said the public would have been better served had commissioners known something about Clark's comments in advance so they could have been able to better respond.

"We are not trying to control what is said," Guy added. "I think the county commissioners and public would be better served."

Fussell shook his head "no" as Guy was speaking.

Commissioner Zettie Williams said she partly agreed with Guy. But, she said she wanted to respect people asking to be on the agenda by listening to them.

"I do not want the county manager to stop anyone," she said.

"I don't want to either," Guy said.