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Bronson adopts new rules for comment

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By Lou Elliott Jones

 

Folks wishing to address the Bronson Town Council have a new set of rules to go by with the adoption of an amended comment policy on Monday night, the council's first revision of its ordinance since 2006.

Under the new guidelines, anyone wanting to address the council can request to be placed on the agenda by noon on the Thursday preceding the Monday meeting. Those wanting to address the council on any matter can sign up on a roster that will be made available 30 minutes before the council meetings in the lobby of the Dogan Cobb Municipal Building where the council meets. 

The changes came about because of a state appeals court decision in 2012 that the public had no right to speak in public meeting unless so stated by state law or local ordinance. In 2013, the state Legislature passed a state law covering the issue: “Members of the public shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board of commission.” 

The statute also mandates that “the opportunity to be heard is subject to according to rules of policies adopted by the board or commission.” 

One item in the state law incorporated into the local ordinance reads: “some forms of comment that slander, defame, libel, disparage, or smear individuals through ad hominem attacks are neither germane the public business and are inappropriate to the decorum of public meetings involving the public business of the city.”  An ad hominem attack is one that appeals to emotions or prejudices rather than intellect. 

Town Clerk Kelli Brettel and Town Attorney Steve Warm said the ordinance unanimously adopted on Monday by the council is model on one already in use in Live Oak. “it's working well for the City of Live Oak,” Brettel said. 

Brettle said the agenda is available for the public on Thursday evening before the regular meetings held on the first and third Mondays of the month to give the public time to decide whether to arrange to comment on a matter. Speakers will be required to sign in before the meeting and to come to the podium where the clerk will be able to record their comments for the record and have three minutes to address the council. 

Anyone wanting to address the council must first be recognized by the presiding officer and comments must be directed to the presiding officer and not individual council members.  

The new policy also bars the use of profanity, rudeness, derogatory remarks, reflections on integrity, abuse and “statements as to motives and personalities.”

The policy also requires the council, its boards and committees to accord the “utmost courtesy” to each other, city employees and the public. 

It also requires that cell phones be turned off or silenced during meetings for the public, staff and council ― except for emergency communications, research or during breaks. 

The state law and the local ordinance also sets penalties for those who willfully disrupt or disturb a meeting including removal by a law enforcement officer and even arrest. A conviction for such is a second degree misdemeanor which carries up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in county jail.