Public Meetings Should Allow Public Comments

Public Meetings Should Allow Public Comments

Because it’s been one way for decades is not reason enough to continue doing something that’s wrong. It’s our position on public comments not being accepted at Worcester County Commissioners meetings.

Unlike nearly every government in the region, there is currently no mechanism for public comments at the Worcester County Commissioners meetings unless there is a public hearing on a specific matter. In these instances, the comments are to be on the issue at hand rather than broad in nature.

The lack of opportunity to address the commissioners has been highlighted in recent months in response to the majority’s position on school system funding. Whether the commissioners have unfairly slashed education funding or unofficially created a policy of reducing the dollars to the same level as the previous year is not the issue here. There is an upwelling of community pride among education personnel as well as families who want to address their commissioners and explain their passionate positions and concerns the current approach will lead to teacher vacancies and recruitment woes.

There will be an opportunity at the annual budget public hearing for parents and teachers to express their positions, but it’s true many decisions have already been made by that time in the budget process. No matter the passion displayed, the commissioners are unlikely to alter a course already essentially set in the budget process by that time.

There’s no reason for a government body to not allow an opportunity for public comment, but it’s been this way for decades in Snow Hill. The commissioners ought to change this approach immediately because it provides a perception, they don’t care what citizens have to say. It’s most likely the number of public comments will be limited because the meetings take place during the day, but the opportunity should be provided to allow citizens to speak at every public meeting.

The Ocean City Mayor and Council allows public comments at its work and regular sessions. The Ocean City Planning Commission offers public comments. The Berlin Mayor and Council allows public comments at its meetings and recently began adding public discussion chances after matters up for voting. The Berlin Planning Commission allows public comments as well. The Ocean Pines Association also allots time for residents to address officials.

Worcester County is alone in providing a time on its agenda for public comments, and it’s time for a change.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.