The Stokes County Board of Commissioners revised its rules of procedure after a lengthy debate on Jan. 28 and further discussion on Feb. 11.
The board voted to adjust the order of the meeting and clarify its public comments procedures, but Commissioner Ronda Jones failed to get a second on her motion to add that no resolutions will be made on an issue that is on a ballot before votes are cast by the public.
The board did agree to add language to the rules of procedure clarifying that there will be no response to public comments. Chairman Ernest Lankford sometimes states before the public comment session that the board will listen but not respond to public comments. Though the board members have followed this as their procedure in the past, it was not specifically listed in the rules.
The board also voted to alter the order of business in meetings, moving the comments by the county manager and commissioners out of the information agenda section and further up in the meeting. The commissioners will now deliver general comments before public hearings and public comments.
The rearranging of the meeting order was done as a compromise, in part, to prevent commissioners from using the information agenda to respond to public comments. The topic of appropriate items for the information agenda and response to public comments was debated heavily at the Jan. 28 meeting, with Commissioner Jimmy Walker saying he would not agree to “censor” or restrict what commissioners felt like they needed to communicate to the media or public.
Lankford stated that it was not fair for any one member to respond to public comments during the meeting when the other members are following rules by not making comments on an issue not up for discussion. Walker pointed out that it was not officially in the rules of procedure, which Lankford said needed to be clarified.
Jones said it can be a disservice to citizens when members start responding to public comments before they have a chance to gather information and consider an issue. Commissioner Leon Inman said it is not fair to the public if there is discussion about an item during the information session when it was not advertised on the agenda.
Commissioner James Booth said that if the board comments are placed before public hearings or comments, then that would take care of the issue. The commissioners agreed to compromise.
Last week Jones could not get a second for her motion regarding resolutions on items on the ballot. The other commissioners expressed at the Jan. 28 meeting that they did not want to add that language to the policy. Jones expressed frustration that the board would not at least take an official vote on the item.
Jones stated at the Jan. 28 meeting that it would be a safeguard for the board and the citizens if resolutions were not made before citizens had a chance to vote on an issue currently on a ballot. This would ensure that the board appeared fair and was not trying to influence votes.
Inman said she brought out an interesting point. Booth said he did not want his hands tied as to whether he could be for or against something. Walker said he agreed with Booth. He did not want to have rules restricting when you can let the public know where you stand on an issue. He went on to bring up the marriage amendment.
Jones said it had nothing to do with a particular resolution and that the resolution issue could come up again in the future with other topics.
Last year Jones and Inman voted against a resolution in favor of the marriage amendment prior to the public vote in the primary, citing their belief that they should not do anything to influence citizens’ votes on the issue. They stated that this vote had nothing to do with their personal opinions about the amendment, but that it was a matter of board ethics. They were voted down by the other three board members.