Public comment change approved

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Charlotte County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to limit public comment during its meetings, allowing only to those who pay real estate and personal property taxes to Charlotte County and those who maintain a residence in the county to speak.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, three citizens spoke in opposition to the measure.

Wylliesburg resident Kay Pierantoni said she would’ve liked to see proposed guidelines allow any speakers who address the board pertaining to county business.

“I can think of valid reasons why an outsider would have pertinent and legitimate items to bring before the supervisors,” said Pierantoni.

Charlotte Court House resident Terry Ramsey commended the board for holding an open work session to draft the public comment policy, but said there was still work to be done.

“I believe the proposed policy is a significant improvement,” Ramsey said during Tuesday’s meeting. “However, I ask you to strike item one, which limits who can speak to only Charlotte County taxpayers and residents. I believe that restriction is not needed.”

“I don’t have a problem with that either, as long as it’s germane to what’s going on in the county, I guess …,” said Drakes Branch Supervisor Garland H. Hamlett Jr.

During the board’s January meeting, Red House/Cullen Supervisor Dr. Nancy Carwile suggested public comment be divided into two segments.

She said those who wished to speak on items who were not on the agenda could have the opportunity to do so at the end of the meeting.

“That, to me, would make the meeting go a lot more smoothly …,” she said in January.

However, a committee of supervisors met at the end of January to discuss the direction of the comment period.

During the meeting, County Seat Supervisors and Board Chairman Gary Walker, Keysville Supervisor Butch Shook, County Administrator R.B. Clark and Carwile gathered to draft the policy, which was presented to the board Tuesday.

The document outlined the policy and included rules, including a provision that comments must focus on matters related to county business, speakers signing up prior to the start of the meeting, speakers being courteous in their language and presentation and encouraging speakers to provide the board a written summary of their comments.

“Why would the board not want to hear from all persons interested in the county?” Ramsey questioned Tuesday. “Who are you trying to keep from speaking, and why is such restriction needed?”

The adopted policy states the board is not required to answer a speaker during the meeting. Speakers may, however, request a board member respond. According to the policy, speakers are encouraged to state their support for earlier comments instead of repeating them.

“Why can’t it just be anyone?” questioned Aspen resident Kathy Liston.

Walker said the committee thought if a public hearing were held, that would enable individuals to speak, regardless of residency. He said new rules regarding residency and paying taxes in the county would be better suited for the public comment period.

Clark said those who wish to speak and do not meet the new requirements still have the option of being placed on the agenda.

Public comment is limited to three minutes for each speaker.