XENIA — The Greene County Board of Commissioners have fully implemented new meeting guidelines for public comments and have begun posting regular meeting videos to their website for public access.
Recently, the structure of the regular business meeting changed when citizens expressed concern that their input during the public comment portion — at the end of the meeting — was useless as the commissioners had already made their decisions that day. Public comment is now held at the beginning of each meeting before discussion on agenda items begins.
The Ohio Revised Code does not require the board to allow public comment. But County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said the commissioners felt compelled to give the public the opportunity to weigh in.
“They strive to be transparent in everything they do,” he said.
Cited under the guidelines, persons intending to speak during public comment must sign-in before the meeting. Each speaker is limited to three minutes. Comment is limited to matters on the board’s agenda for that meeting.
Additionally, commissioners will not address questions raised during comment. Questions or comments on non-agenda topics may be submitted in writing to the county administrator for consideration and response.
The guidelines also state that the board has the right to end public comments at any time, as well as amend or set aside the guidelines at any time.
Huddleson said the guidelines were constructed after researching other Ohio public entities’ meeting policies and incorporating the most common policies.
But some residents are concerned about a few of these changes.
“They’ve literally shut down the ability for us to question them on their actions through the guidelines they put in place in November. They limited the topics that we can speak on to only agenda items,” said Kim McCarthy, a Xenia resident who regularly attends meetings. “The people that come in here who have no connection with the government but know they can come to a meeting to express in a public setting the issues the’yre having — that’s all gone away.”
Huddleson said he invites members of the public to schedule personal meetings with him where he can give them specific details and access to public records, something he is not able to provide without access to relevant materials during open meetings.
“I want to give you precise information,” he said. “I am here all day, every day. I am open to the public. I am sort of the liaison between the board and the public and I welcome the discussions, the questions …”
The meeting guidelines were put into place specifically in conjunction with the new video system, an effort that was also prompted by public interest.
“Now they say they can edit out anything that they see as a public disturbance, which is unheard of,” said McCarthy, who is running for Ohio House of Representative’s 73rd District.
Huddleson said the board has the right to use its discretion to cut out portions that might be offensive or include expletives.
“It would not be comments we just disagree with or are uncomfortable with,” he added.
One Beavercreek resident said she was concerned that the only way she could follow a meeting was by requesting an agenda packet ahead of time. Members of the public may request an agenda packet via email, which are sent out one day before the meeting at the same time the commissioners receive it.
“As a person sitting here, they talk back and forth, they know what’s going on, but nobody out here knows what’s going on,” Marylin Rainey said.
Packets were originally only provided to media but Huddleson said public engagement prompted the new policy.
“I feel like the commissioners and their staff have been extremely sensitive to the needs and the requests of the public for increased transparency and have responded properly,” Huddleson said.
Meetings are held 1 p.m. every Thursday at 35 Greene Street. If there is a holiday or scheduling conflict, the board will meet 9 a.m. that Tuesday. Past agendas, minutes, meeting guidelines and meeting videos are available on the commissioners’ webpage under the “board meetings” tab.
Contact Anna Bolton at 937-502-4498 or follow @annadbolton on Facebook.