02/09/12 — Public comment rules, voter ID discussed

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Public comment rules, voter ID discussed

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 9, 2012 1:46 PM

The public comment section of Wayne County commissioners' Tuesday morning meeting at times more closely resembled a Republican rally than a public forum.

Of the six speakers, two, Kenny Talton of Mount Olive and Bill Pate of Goldsboro, are GOP candidates for commissioner, and another, Bob Jackson of Goldsboro, is chairman of the Wayne County Republican Party.

Talton and Pate, neither of whom identified themselves as candidates, lobbied for evening meetings while Jackson, who has been a regular speaker at board meetings, renewed his call for support for a local voter identification measure. Jackson, who did not identify his status as GOP chair, also supported holding evening sessions.

"We have a policy here in Wayne County, the board of commissioners does, you can only speak once each month and have your say once a month," board Chairman John Bell said prior to opening the meeting to public comment. "We want everybody to keep in mind that if you speak today you will not be allowed to speak at our next meeting -- not in the public comment section time. I just wanted everybody to understand that."

"Mr. Chairman, I did not know that," Commissioner Steve Keen said. "I did not know you could only speak one time a month. I did not know that. That just sort of threw me. It's a good thing we don't follow the rules up here."

"In as much that I didn't know that rule, I am breaking it at the moment and I apologize," Jackson said.

Bell assured him it was "no problem."

The rules governing the public comment period were adopted on May 1, 2007 by unanimous vote, county officials said.

The rules set aside a period of public comment during the board's two regular monthly sessions, generally on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, while limiting speakers to three minutes once a month.

Other rules are:

*If there is a group of individuals supporting or opposing the same proposition, the group shall elect a delegate who will be allowed to speak for the entire group

*When the numbers of persons wishing to attend a meeting exceeds the capacity of the meeting facility, delegates from the group supporting or opposing the same positions shall be selected

*Maintenance of order and decorum and the conduct of the public comment period shall be observed

*The board of commissioners reserves the right to limit the time devoted to public comments at any particular meeting.

Jackson spoke on the need for voters to show identification at the polls.

"Again, I would suggest that you consider sending a petition or request to Raleigh to the Legislature that they grant you the authority to institute voter ID in Wayne County," Jackson said.

Talton, a candidate for the District 2 commission seat, said he supported commissioners holding some of their meetings in the evenings.

"You may have tried this in the past, but lately, talking with constituents and members of the community, they would like for you to consider this again and if not for both meetings, maybe one meeting of the month you can have it at nighttime instead of daytime. "

Pate, a candidate for the District 5 board seat, said he was pleased to see a large turnout at a meeting in Fremont about saving the town library. Commissioners Ray Mayo and Bud Gray also attended the meeting.

"That is another fine example, I think, of commissioners' need to get out in the community and hold more town hall meetings," Pate said.

Pate said that he had served on many boards and that they all met in the evening because that was when people could attend and express their feelings.