I would like to share with your readers my own experience with the manner in which County Commission meetings are conducted.
On May 15, 2007, I attended a County Commissioner regular meeting to listen to a presentation being made by Carolyn Cummins, Worcester County Planning Commission Chair. The presentation was on behalf of the Planning Commission and concerned future expansion of county wastewater services.
During Ms. Cummins’ presentation, a question regarding a proposed development project in Showell was directed by Commissioner Bud Church to an attorney in the audience who was the legal representation for the developer. From his seat in the audience, the attorney answered the question, yet he was still invited by the commission president to move to the podium (which was still occupied by the presenter, Ms. Cummins) where this gentlemen proceeded to take over and redirect that discussion to matters not related to Ms. Cummins’ presentation, but rather to matters related to his client’s business.
After approximately 15 minutes of this attorney’s control of the agenda, I found myself speaking up from my seat and directing a ‘point of order’ question to the commission president despite technically not having a voice as I had not been recognized. Had this now become a public hearing, I asked, and did I, as another interested party in the audience, have a right to speak? I was ignored by the president as I continued to stand for several minutes and was finally told it was not a public hearing. The commission president seemed very confused as to the protocol and finally waved his hand to me as if to say “leave me alone”.
On June 15, I wrote a letter to County Attorney Ed Hammond and County Administrator Gerry Mason on this matter, stating I certainly understood that a regular commissioner meeting was not a public hearing, and I understood that if a commissioner has a question for someone in the audience they certainly have the power to ask that person the question and expect a reply. What I was concerned about was the alarming trend by the commission president to allow a rather selective form of public hearings to take place at County Commission meetings. I questioned at what point were other county citizens, sitting in the audience, to be given the same rights, and asked for a clarification of procedures and policies for County Commission meetings.
While I did receive a reply from Mr. Hammond a few weeks later, and was assured my concerns were brought before the commissioners, I see that they are still confused as to how to adopt a policy that will allow their constituents to communicate with them at regular commission meetings.
I would like to see the county adopt a policy that will allow the citizens of this county, who elected this commission, to be able to stand up at the end of business, and on the record, bring matters they consider important to the attention of the commission. I don’t expect the commissioners to settle the matter at that time, but as citizens we should have the right to make an announcement, or ask a question, on the record.
Furthermore, the fact that the contents of the agenda for County Commission meetings are not made public is just wrong. I would like to know if there are matters on the agenda that are important to me and I have no access to a full agenda. The agenda I access on the county website or the one citizens pick up at the start of the meeting is full of blank spaces, without a hint of subject matter. If the full agenda is set on the Friday prior to the meeting, why isn’t a detailed agenda posted on the county website?
If these matters were addressed, I believe we would see a more active participation by the citizens of Worcester County at County Commission meetings and more open lines of communication between our government and its people.