Council listens, changes public comment bylaw

Kevin Boozer Staff Writer

November 23, 2013

WINNSBORO — Fairfield County Council heeded the concerns of constituents and has altered proposed changes to its bylaws with regard to public hearing comment.

In a draft of the proposed bylaws, council required speakers to state their name and address before making public comment. Interim County Administrator Milton Pope said he understood the bylaw recommendation as being meant to provide public disclosure about where a citizen resides.

He believed that public disclosure would be necessary because in some cases council members might not know all the people who attend and speak at a meeting. However, he said he was willing to work with council to revise the requirement at the request of county constituents who considered the requirement an intimidation tactic.

Council instead required speakers for public hearing comment to state their name, district and the county in which they live. The speaker’s three-minute clock would begin once the personal information was supplied.

The change passed 6-0. Councilman Mikel Trapp was absent from the meeting.

Council said a public commenter must leave his or her name, address and contact information on a sign-up sheet that council members could reference if they need to contact a speaker. Otherwise, that information will be kept private.

Revisions to the bylaws included a code of conduct provision that council chose to add though the law did not require it. The code reads: “Fairfield County Council believes that the public interest is best served when meetings are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility. Every person, including public officials and private citizens who participate in a Fairfield County Council meeting is required to adopt the following pledge of conduct: I pledge that I may disagree but will be respectful of all. I will direct all comments to the pending issues. I will refrain from personal attacks.”

Chairman David Ferguson reminded constituents that the pledge counted both ways, as model for council members and for residents. That motion passed 6-0 as did all of the other proposed changes to the county bylaws.

At the request of Ferguson and with consent of council, Pope went through the bylaw changes line by line. Council voted on the changes once a particular section was read.

• The bylaws define the office of council chair, giving the chair authority to maintain order, call someone to order if he or she is out of order. The chair, or any member of county council, has the power to request the meeting be cleared to restore order in an instance of repeated infraction related to order.

“All the rules I looked at refer to the convener of the meeting to carry out the meeting. It is not about that person but is about the position itself and how the office should operate,” Pope said.

• Section 9.8 of the bylaws stated it is the duty of each council member to vote unless he or she is excused from a vote by the majority vote of council. If a member does not vote and has not been recused from the vote, the vote counts as an affirmative vote.

• A second three-minute public comment section was added. Public presentation time was moved ahead on the agenda, just after approval of minutes. The presentation time, held on the first meeting of each month, now will be followed by the first public comment which must pertain to an item on the agenda. The second public comment time, just after the report of clerk to council, speakers can address any topic for which council has responsibility.

• The bylaws detail information required prior to a public presentation being heard. A Presentation Committee consisting of the chairman, vice chairman and the person’s district representative will approve or deny the presentation request.

Ferguson said that committee remains a work in process. If the presenter is from the chair or vice chair’s district, another council member will be appointed for the committee, a procedure he recommended to enact using an alphabetized rotation list of council members.

County council meets Monday at 6 p.m. in council chambers. The master list for county recreation projects will be among the items discussed.