Public comment flap avoided at Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting
November 16, 2012
A contingent of outraged county residents had the wind taken out of their sails when the Nevada County Board of Supervisors essentially agreed with their position Tuesday.
"Ted, I came here to really clean your clock and you really messed up my day," Nevada City resident Song Kowbell said in a joking manner to board Chairman Ted Owens.
Kowbell was joined by about 10 other residents, all of whom came to the Tuesday regular meeting of the supervisors prepared to give impassioned testimony against a board resolution. The resolution, written by Owens, sought to make adjustments to the public-comment period during public hearings, giving the chair discretion to reduce the time period from five minutes to three minutes if it appears a great many people have an intention to speak.
However, some ambiguity in the resolution's supporting documents caused many observers to believe Owens was attempting to curb the public's ability to participate in public meetings at the county. The focus of people's ire was a sentence that stated it would limit comment on agenda items to "three minutes for each individual and 15 minutes per agenda item."
What most people didn't know is that the 15-minute limit on agenda items has been part of Nevada County meeting protocol for many years, Owens said.
"In my eight years, I've never enforced it, and I've never seen it enforced," Owens said.
Supervisor Nate Beason recommended the county do away with the rule as it is never enforced.
"We should codify what we practice," he said.
The resolution's intent, was to provide discretion to the chairman, during public hearings. In multiple public hearings in the recent past, specifically ones relating to the medical marijuana ordinance and the Emigrant Trail easement issue, the number of people desiring to be heard has been large.
Owens said if the time period was reduced it would allow for more perspectives to be incorporated.
The majority of those who came to oppose the resolution ended up thanking the board for taking up the issue. The board did defer the resolution to a later date so that it could refine some of the language.
Supervisor Terry Lamphier, who arrived at the meeting with quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln about the importance of public participation in representative democracy that ultimately went unused, said the board should consider holding some meetings at night so people with day jobs could participate.
Supervisor Ed Scofield said night meetings would mean that some items wouldn't be dealt with until midnight.
Other issues dealt with during discussion of the item included decorum, such as discouraging applause or praise from audience during public comment and staying on topic and striving not to reiterate the same points made earlier in the session.
Owens said the item will likely come back in December for a vote.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.
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