Limit on public comment proposed
November 16, 2012
A proposal by Chairman Ted Owens to curtail public comment periods during regular meetings of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors has stirred outrage in the community.
Citing recent instances at meetings where the public comment period lasted hours, Owens has submitted a proposal that would limit comment on agenda items to "three minutes for each individual and 15 minutes per agenda item," while altering public hearing protocol to limit individual public comments to three minutes instead of five.
Sharon Boivin, a Grass Valley resident who worked in the county planning department for 33 years, said the resolution would be doing the public a great disservice as it "limits the amount of testimony they can give on a given item.
"The supervisors get elected so they can include the public in the decision-making process," Boivin said.
Don Bessee, who participated in the five hours of public testimony related to the Medical Marijuana Ordinance, also expressed opposition to the item.
"There is going to be strong opposition to this from the Federation of Neighborhood Associations, as well as other groups," Bessee said in an email to The Union. "This would seem to be a violation of some provisions in the Brown Act. How can the public be served by only hearing from five people (three minutes each equals the 15-minute limit per agenda item)?"
Owens told The Union that limiting comment on agenda items to three minutes per person has been in place in the county's meeting protocol for many years. Similarly, the 15 minutes per agenda item rule, which is the center of much indignation over the item, has been in the county rules for a long time, but is rarely enforced.
"In my eight years, I've never enforced it, and I've never seen it enforced," Owens said.
What is being proposed is the limitation of individual comments to three minutes during public hearings, instead of the currently allotted five minutes, Owens said.
"I feel three minutes is sufficient to get your point across," Owens said. "Also, I think it does the opposite of limiting public input, in that it allows more people to participate."
Owens cited the medical marijuana ordinance public hearing, where many people signed up to participate but grew weary and left before their names were called, as proof the public hearing conduct measures needed revising.
"We just want to clean up a few things," he said.
Public hearings take place for the specific purpose of alerting the public to an issue, usually connected to land use, and requesting members give feedback.
Agenda items are typically business items where the county staff must gain approval or direction from the board before proceeding.
Owens said he believes the discrepancy in time limits between the two meeting functions only causes confusion and that implementing uniform conduct rules would help the board and the public.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.