Laurens County Council puts new rules in place for citizen input
Anyone wishing to address members of Laurens County Council – other than those invited by council – now have to register to speak in advance of the meeting. A citizen wishing to speak during the time set aside during each meeting for public comment – 15 minutes total – can register up until the start of the meeting. The Laurens School District 56 board of trustees requires registration in advance of the meeting. The agenda packet given to board members and the media a few days in advance of the monthly meetings includes the form submitted by someone wishing to speak. Like County Council, Clinton City Council allows speakers to sign up until the meeting begins. A person addressing County Council can speak up to five minutes. District 56 and City Council limit comments to three minutes per speaker. Neither the school board nor the city council have a specific total amount of time set aside for public comments. Usually, the school board may have one person who wishes to speak during a meeting. City council may hear from one or two people – unless utility bills skyrocket and then as many as two dozen people will want to have their voices heard. All three entities – County Council, City Council, School Board – receive comments as information only. Rarely does an elected or appointed official respond to a comment following the public comment portions of the meetings. From time to time, the chairman of one of these groups will ask the professional staff to investigate something brought up by a citizen and report back either to the board or to the citizen. We are glad that public agencies in Laurens County will listen to their constituents. They should. We also think they are wise to have a written request from the person wishing to talk that includes information about the person and what they are concerned about. The new rules for addressing Laurens County Council include one that says some things may not be discussed – either because it would not be legal or would go against protocol or because it would be inappropriate for council meetings, such as partisan political comments. Anyone wanting to talk must do so in an “appropriate civil manner.” Personal attacks, whether against council members, county staff or any person or group, will not be allowed. Racial slurs will not be permitted. The final rule allows the chairman of County Council to make closing comments directly after the public comment time – if time permits. What is the chairman’s “last word” is a remark a citizen wants to respond to? Will the citizen be given that opportunity? The advanced registration hasn’t been in place for Laurens County Council long enough for all the bases to be covered. Some things might have to be left to the chairman’s discretion. The Hilton Head newspaper published a story last week about the mayor denying a citizen – who had registered in advance – to speak during a recent meeting. The story said the citizen regularly addressing the city council and other area public bodies. The mayor said the man – a lawyer --would not be allowed to speak and a rather heated discussion ensued. Finally, the council voted to allow the man to address council. The mayor voted against the motion. At the end of his comments, the man said he would be back at the next meeting ready to again address the council. “I look forward to it,” the mayor said. There are people who regularly address public agencies in Laurens County. Many times, they want to talk about things that the group they are talking to has absolutely no control over. Often, the citizens don’t make much sense. But it’s extremely important they have the opportunity to get what’s bothering them off their chest. Sometimes, that is enough. Other times, they want to know what the public body is going to do about a specific problem or area of concern. In those instances, they deserve a response. It doesn’t have to come during a public meeting, necessarily. But they do deserve a response.