East Spencer discusses plans to establish public comments policy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

EAST SPENCER — A week after a heated exchange during a regular meeting, the East Spencer town board is looking to implement a public comment policy that allows individual speakers up to five minutes to address the board.

The policy comes after resident Carolyn Logan told the board it failed to do anything about paving issues that left standing water on her property. She blasted the board and said she had been dealing with this issue for years without any steps taken to rectify the situation.

Town attorney Tom Brooke said earlier this month he was asked to look into creating a policy that would allow speakers only three minutes to address the board. Some board members said they felt that was not long enough and did not vote to approve the policy as it was submitted.

During the meeting, Brooke told Logan she had three minutes to speak. Logan told Brooke the board had not enacted its policy and since nothing was in place she would speak until she was done.

Brooke repeatedly told Logan that her time was up. However, a group that also spoke at the same meeting regarding a youth program spoke for longer. The youth group’s time was not monitored.

During Tuesday’s work session, the board by consensus agreed that each person deserved up to five minutes and the entire public comment period would be limited to 30 minutes. The board cannot take action during its work session but will vote on the policy at its December meeting.

Part of the proposed policy says that no citizen could yield their time to another citizen to extend the five-minute limit.

“You’re saying I can’t give my time to someone else. If I haven’t spoken and I want to yield my comments to someone else. I don’t like that part,” Alderman Tony Hillian said.

Brooke said speakers shouldn’t be able to give up their time so someone else could speak longer.

Hillian said he’s been on the board for at least three years and he’s never seen more than 10 people speak at meetings. He said he understands there needs to be a policy in place but didn’t agree with all of it.

Mayor Barbara Mallett said they should be forward-thinking and anticipate a time where they will have lots of public comments.

Alderman Dwayne Holmes said he didn’t think those who spoke at meetings took too long and he said they should have the freedom to speak.

“It’s not just about the time, but the decorum as well,” Town Administrator James Bennett said.

He said speakers who address the board should not be allowed to disrespect the board and staff. He said the same should go for those attending in-person and those who may address the board via the video conferencing app Zoom.

Additional time may be allotted at the discretion of the board, the policy said.

Each person who desires to speak will have to sign up before the meeting.

The board is also hoping to sign an interlocal agreement between the county and the town for property tax collection services, including the collection of current and delinquent taxes. Other municipalities have entered into the same agreement, Bennett said.

The board will soon provide Zoom for those who are not able to attend a town board meeting in person. The board received training from Joe Watkins of Centric Technologies, a technology management consulting business based in Lexington.