07/20/08 — Duplin officials still bickering over who can address board

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Duplin officials still bickering over who can address board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 20, 2008 1:25 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Squabbling over agenda speakers has almost become a regular agenda item for Duplin County commissioners, prompting county Manager Mike Aldridge to offer what he hopes will clarify the issue.

The issue surfaced in June after agenda speaker Dennis Clark was critical of what he called waste in the country's transportation system.

Commissioner Reginald Wells suggested agenda speakers be required to provide some background information when they ask to be on the agenda.

His comments prompted catcalls of "censorship" from the audience. Wells responded that he was only trying to ensure that commissioners have information they need to help prepare them for their meetings. He said it would also allow the county to ensure the necessary staff members would be on hand to respond to questions.

His fellow board members were cold to the idea.

Earlier this month, Commissioner L.S. Guy objected when Commissioner David Fussell wanted to defer his comments to Clark.

Guy argued that Fussell, not Clark was on the agenda, sparking another round on the agenda issue.

When commissioners meet this Monday, Aldridge plans to offer his policy suggestion.

In the agenda packet sent to commissioners, Aldridge wrote: "There has been considerable discussion among board members concerning board members placing items for discussion on the agenda, including information to be introduced with the agenda, and whether board members may allow others to serve as spokesmen on subjects that board members are listed on the agenda to discuss."

About one year ago, commissioners approved an Institute of Government policy regarding agendas, he said.

That policy notes that the clerk to the board, in this case Aldridge, is charged with preparing agendas. Requests to be placed on the agenda must be received "at least two working days prior" to the meeting.

It adds that "any board member may, by a timely request, have an item placed on the agenda."

That, he said in the packet, "adequately addresses the right of board members to request an item to be placed on the agenda."

Aldridge said in the agenda packet that speakers appearing before the board "bring with them other individuals with specific knowledge or expertise concerning an agenda item. Likewise, board members, with the consent of a majority of the board, may also reasonably defer to other spokesmen to supplement their comments."

The Institute of Govern-ment policy also notes that "the agenda packet "shall include ... supporting documentation and background information relevant to items on the agenda."

Aldridge said that statement "addresses the requirement that supporting information be included in the agenda. Depending on the complexity of the topic, the clerk in carrying out this provision may choose not to include an item on the agenda unless sufficient supporting information is provided that would enable the board to adequately deliberate the item of business."

Aldridge said in his opinion board sessions should be devoted to debate and decision-making and not commentary.

"I think the board's time would be better spent on deciding issues of policy," he said. "A lot of the speakers (on the agenda) are more or less commenting and not asking for a board decision. We have the public comment section for that."