“And the beat (up) goes on……”

Published 10:00 pm Monday, September 1, 2014

To the editor,
Just when citizens’ input at Board of Commissioners’ meetings has been increasing the Republican majority of commissioners has decided to limit comments on agenda items. Citizens’ input is provided after each agenda item is discussed prior to a vote. As a result of the action Monday, August 4, citizens will be allowed to comment on agenda items only at the beginning of the meetings.
This change was explained by Commissioner Owens that after listening to the recording of the previous Commissioners’ meeting he observed there was significant behavior that was inconsistent with good meeting decorum and felt changing the place in the meeting agenda for comment would address the issue. He also explained there was politically related content in the comments which had no part in the “peoples’ work One of the majority commissioners present referred to the recent public comment as a “circus.”
During the public comments on this proposal, the majority of the input, including Commissioner Gasperson’s, recommended keeping the process in place, as is, with no changes. Chairman Owens then made a motion to table his proposal until the next meeting to study the topic further. Upon hearing this, Commissioners Gage and Pack strongly disagreed and Chairman Owens withdrew his motion. In addition to changing where in the agenda the public can comment, the majority additionally proposed limiting individual comment to 3 minutes per person. The Commissioners then voted, and consistent with past outcomes, the majority (Owens, Pack, and Gage with Holbert absent ) came out in favor of the change, with Gasperson casting the lone dissenting opinion.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the majority commissioners spoke of concern for politically motivated comments by the public when they consistently vote as a bloc, 4-1 by party line? And, as far as likening the public comment process to that of a circus, the majority should go back and review their discussion during this agenda item. It achieved three-ring status. Bring out the elephants!
Our Commissioners should be seeking more public input rather than less. They should be listening more rather than pushing their agenda on the public, at times without explanation. We were reminded that the meeting information packet was on-line and available to read prior to the meetings. This is so but not everyone has access to it and it’s cumbersome to navigate. The Commissioners should look into additional ways of seeking input and communicating their plans with us.
It’s true; more citizens have been attending and commenting at Commissioners’ meetings lately. There are a growing number of citizens concerned as to why good leaders like Ryan Whitson, Lynn Sprague and Libbie Johnson would choose to leave jobs they did so well and enjoyed. It’s also true some people have spoken with emotion to object to the unnecessary cost of hiring a consultant to duplicate the work of the Economic and Tourism Development Director or the sale of an offensive tee shirt by the Republican Committee depicting an assault weapon and the slogan “ Liberals Suck.”
People are also concerned there is a growing lack of interest by the majority in accepting public input, unless it supports their agenda. There certainly is no logic in moving citizen comments to the beginning of the meeting where no one has heard the proposals for each agenda item, is there? Limiting comments to 3 minutes per person will not result in higher quality input, will it? And, as is usually the case, voting to accept the Commissioner’s proposal, regardless of public feedback to the contrary, only tends to reinforce the perception that the majority could care less what the public wants.
Unfortunately, one of the possible downsides of this change is that some people will decide it’s not worth attending Commissioners’ meetings since their opportunity for comment on proposals important to them has been limited and their input is disregarded. This would be unfortunate, as we need more participation, not less.
There is, however one forum which can only be limiting if we choose not to exercise it…and that’s to vote our feelings in November.

Dennis Hill
Green Creek

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