Finding Those Regulations Limiting Public Comment Proves an Elusive Task

Editorial

Mayor Joseph Fisona caught a lot of people, including elected officials, by surprise at the last meeting when he announced the Elkton Code contained precise regulations limiting public comment, which he was going to start following.  While reading a prepared statement, the chief executive officer cited section 2.04.02 of the Elkton Code, reporting that it required people to sign in before making public comments, limited remarks to two to five minutes, and required a few other things.

After he finished the statement at least two elected officials were puzzled. Commissioner Givens, after having to inquire what this was all about, wondered what would happen if something came up during a session that someone wanted to address or perhaps they missed the sign in sheet. The mayor said they wouldn’t be able to speak, while Commissioner Jablonski explained how the process could work. The discussion continued as Mayor Fisona and Commissioner Jablonski supported the announcement, while Commissioner Givens asked practical questions. 

Searching for The Regulations

Listening to the mayor’s statement, we thought it was most unusual for a code book to codify such specific regulations so we visited town hall to get a copy of the ordinance. The cited section says: “The Board of Commissioners may by resolution adopt such rules of procedure, not inconsistent with the town charter or this section as the board may consider to be desirable.”

That was about what we expected. It is logical to establish reasonable rules, but after searching for those elusive detailed requirements we couldn’t find the regulations. We suggest the Mayor and Commissioners think this subject over carefully, discussing it in one of those workshops, where the agendas aren’t published. By carefully considering the subject, they can bring all the elected officials into the process and decide how they want to manage the sessions.  Surprising elected representatives and people with a reading of some elusive ordinances is not the way to approach it.

Commissioner Givens Recommends Appropriate Method

There is a need to improve the flow of Elkton meetings and we think Commissioner Givens had it right when he said the chair just needs to regulate the meeting.  Rarely are there many people at sessions offering comments and if someday dozens show up put a time requirement in place. If someone is getting out of line, gavel them out of order and restore order. Oh there is one last thing, don’t turn it into a debating society. Listen to the public, and take what they say into consideration. If a debate begins, with back and forth, that won’t help anyone. Someone can always get on the agenda at the next meeting and continue their comments, if they feel so moved.

These elusive ordinances we searched for are not the solution.  Elkton already makes it difficult for the public to comment, which is one of the things that caused, as the mayor says, the last meeting to go off course.  The town initiated important public policy actions without giving the public any ability to comment before it was a done deal. If they’d put more sunshine on the process, it would contribute to better decision making and better government. Somehow other places in the county manage to do that.

Related Posts

To Help Citizens Participate in Local Government, Publish Workshop Agendas

New Blight Reduction Policy & Transfer of $150,000 in Waived Fees Causes Controversey

The Challenges of Staying Informed About Public Business in Elkton

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