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Charter could open meetings to more public comment

Posted on Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

LUCY WILLIAMS, editor & publisher

A proposed charter still in the stage of being drafted could open up Lincoln County Commission meetings – as well as all other county government meetings – to more public comments and questions.

In discussion last week, members of the Lincoln County Charter Commission talked about including in the charter language that would afford Lincoln County residents up to three minutes to address the county’s legislative body at the beginning and at the end of each of its meetings.

Additionally, charter commissioners also discussed a one minute comment period per person just after each item on a county governing body’s agenda is taken up.

“During the meeting, before the chair moves on to another item, we should include language where the chair must ask the audience for questions or comments regarding the matter at hand,” said Daryl Luna, Charter Commission chairman. “It must be germane to the topic and be no more than one minute.”

“I think that should be for all meetings, not just county commission meetings,” said Fonville Mitchell, secretary of the Charter Commission.

Currently, members of the public are only permitted to speak during Lincoln County Commission meetings if a county commissioner makes a motion to allow them to speak and that motion passes in a vote or if the individual requests placement on the agenda at least nine days prior to the meeting while also indicating generally his/her concerns.

In other discussion during the Charter Commission meeting Tuesday, members of the panel continued talks on whether the size of the County Commission should be reduced to either nine members (one from each district plus an at large member), 16 members (two from each district), or 24 members (three from each district as it is presently).

Saying he would prefer to wait and make a decision on that until town hall meetings are held, Luna went on to lead a discussion on the makeup and responsibilities of the county’s budget committee and ways and means committee, depending on how many county commissioners the county has. While the budget committee would be responsible for setting the county’s budget, the ways and means committee would focus more on spending priorities and ensuring adequate funding.

Also discussed was the ethics committee’s role in filling vacancies on the County Commission. What’s being eyed for inclusion in the proposed charter would be a requirement that the commission nominate three individuals to be considered for the seat. Those nominations would then go to the ethics committee, which would have at least 30 days to check qualifications and look into any possible conflicts before the names would return to the commission for final action.

Circumstances constituting emergency meetings were discussed as well, in addition to a requirement that action taken in those meetings meet the two-thirds majority rule.

Language is expected to be included in the proposed charter requiring that documents – such as meeting agendas and minutes – be posted online as well as made available to the public in the county clerk’s office at least three days in advance of meetings.

Additionally, executive powers, or the powers of the county mayor as head of the executive branch and chief fiscal officer of the county, were also discussed. In that regard, the county mayor would see to all resolutions and laws of the county, with the exception of those falling under the sheriff’s purview; keep the commission fully advised of the county’s financial status; have veto power over agency budgets; be responsible for proposing nominations and/or appointments as well as discharges; negotiate loans, bonds, notes and direct investment of funds; and oversee contracts with commission approval. In situations when there is a vacancy in the county mayor’s seat, the chairman of the County Commission would serve as mayor, and then the chair pro tempore, until an interim is named.

It was noted in discussion that term limits, which had been indicated as desired during previous Charter Commission meetings, are not permitted in regard to seats on the Board of Education. “There is a move afoot to get that changed though,” said Mitchell, urging members of the panel to express their opinions on the matter to legislators.

The next meeting of the Charter Commission is planned for 6 p.m. on Monday, May 13.