The public will have additional opportunities to speak at county commission meetings following a unanimous vote by the board last week to extend public comment at regular meetings.
In a compromise the board decided to extend the public comment section of regular meetings to allow five speakers three minutes each without subject restrictions.
Speakers must sign up with the county clerk 10 minutes before the meetings begin.
The additional public comment should take place after the close of the business portion of meetings. Residents had urged Dawson County commissioners to re-evaluate the policy, which limits public comment to meeting agenda items and limits the amount of time someone can speak on agenda items.
“A couple of us were approached by some citizens about the fact that you couldn’t go to a work session, find out what’s going to be on next week’s agenda and then talk about it,” said District 3 Commissioner Mike Connor.
“You couldn’t get on the agenda because there weren’t eight days,” he said.
According to policy the board adopted in April, residents had to sign up with the county clerk at least eight days in advance to speak on agenda items.
Connor presented the proposal Thursday to amend the public comment portion and allow for a broader range of input.
After researching public comment at commission meetings in nearby counties, District 2 Commissioner Terri Tragesser said she thought Dawson County’s policy was too restrictive.
Commission Chairman Mike Berg said extending the public comment portion of the meetings to allow speakers to address non-agenda items could put commissioners at a disadvantage because they may not be prepared to answer everyone’s questions.
“I prefer not to be in discussionary mode when we don’t have all the information,” he said.
District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon agreed, saying the meetings are business meetings of the elected officials.
“The issues for us are the agenda items we’re supposed to prepare ourselves for,” he said.
Connor said amending the time allotted for public comment and allowing speakers to sign up 10 minutes prior to meetings is not intended to allow for commissioner response.
“It’s public comment, not public question,” he said.
County surveyor Fred Youngman said the public comment portion of commission meetings is the only time people can address a subject before the entire board of commissioners.
“Telephone (calls) to one district commissioner may be a value,” Youngman said.
“But there are some issues that are best shared with the full commission. Where everybody hears the same thing at the same time.”
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