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County Commission Votes 2-1 to Modify Agenda

Comment Sections Moved to End of Meeting, Commissioner Comments Removed, Commission Given Ability to Limit Public Comment Time With Majority Vote

Monday’s Clay County Commission meeting brought another round of the usual back and forth seen between Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte and Commissoner Ridgeway. This week it pertained to proposed changes to the way the County Commission structures it’s agenda.

The first, 2016-ORD-30, restructured the usual order of the agenda that is observed. Public comment, officeholder comment, and agency comment was moved from the beginning of the meeting agenda to the last item to be addressed before a potential executive session. The ordinance also removed the Administrator comments and Commissioner comment section. Commissioner Nolte has often used the Commissioner Comments in past meetings to make statements on issues he’s been concerned about. The second, 2016-ORD-31, gives the County Commission the ability to limit the length of time a member of the public, an office holder, or a member of an agency has to speak.

Commissioner Nolte opposed both measures. With regards to ORD-30 he felt that the ordinance “puts the citizens, who are in fact our bosses, at the end of the line as far as comments go. Citizens take time off work to be here and to actively participate in their government.” Nolte went on to say that he felt this “measure was part of a broader agenda to suppress dissent and any comments from the public.”

You can listen to Nolte’s full comments below about the first ordinance:

Commissioner Ridgeway responded to Nolte’s comments saying, “My purpose and my design is to give time for us to promptly go to agenda items that had been made and published according to the Sunshine Law.” Ridgeway’s argument is that the Commission’s priority should be to those agenda items because they often have people who expect that business to be conducted in a timely manner.

You can listen to her full comments below about the first ordinance:

Nolte opposed the second ordinance restricting public comment time saying that the Commission should give the greatest latitude possible to citizens while acknowledging that those citizens will sometimes make elected officials uncomfortable. He acknowledged that many school boards and city councils do restrict time of debate, but he was concerned that the proposed change gives a majority of Commissioners “the ability to tell the public to sit down and shut-up.”

You can listen to his full comments about the second ordinance here:

Former Clay County Commissioner Jay Lawson was on hand to make a public comment on the proposed ordinance. Lawson was understanding of the time limits, but he was concerned that the time restraints should be applied equally to all that speak at the County Commission. Lawson also felt that the Commission may be getting close to violating first Amendment rights of County Citizens.

His full comments and exchange with the Commission is available here:

Commissioner Ridgeway said that she’d proposed the change to clarify what was already existing in law. The current law says each person shall limit their comment to a time limit. Ridgeway stressed that it doesn’t actually say who limits the time limit, so she intended for this to fix that. Her comments are part of the exchange with former Commissioner Lawson, but you can hear the specific comments referenced here:

Commissioner Owen remained mostly quite about the issues interjecting a little with former Commissioner Lawson. He voted for passage of both Ordinances.

Our video coverage does feature video of a lengthy discussion of an ordinance modification that Commissioner Nolte proposed. His measure pertained to work sessions and business sessions. His measure failed. You can watch the discussion of that proposal below.

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