Monday, February 27, 2017

Oconee County Commission Chair Says He Will Not Allow Citizen Comment On Animal Shelter Feasibility Study At Tuesday Meeting

Discussion Item

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell said today (Monday) he does not plan to allow citizens to comment at the Commission meeting tomorrow night on the Tevis Architects report that recommends the county build a new animal shelter.

Daniell said citizens will not be allowed to comment on the report during the citizen comment opportunity at the beginning of the meeting because the item is on the Commission agenda.

He said citizens also will not be allowed to comment when the item comes up later in the meeting because it is a discuss-only item and no action by the Commission is anticipated.

Daniell said the decision is consistent with the policy he announced at the Commission meeting on Feb. 7, but it is inconsistent with the comment made by Animal Control Department Head Catlyn Vickers at the meeting of the Animal Control Advisory Board the following night.

Vickers encouraged Advisory Board members and citizens present to attend the meeting tomorrow night to “to voice their opinion” about the Tevis study.

Volunteer Comment

After I posted last (Sunday) night about the Commission meeting and said that citizens “should have an opportunity on Tuesday night to lobby the Board of Commissioners for a new facility,” I got an email from Wendy Jackson, an active volunteer at the Animal Shelter.

Jackson said she had heard that citizens would not be allowed to comment.

In my post, I said that Daniell had “sent mixed signals since he assumed that position in January as to whether he will allow citizen comment if the Board decides to take no action on the Tevis report at what is billed as an agenda setting meeting.”

In an email exchange today, Daniell told me that his position on citizen comment is clear and was stated at the Feb. 7 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Email Response

“Since the presentation (by Tevis) is not an action item, we do not have citizen comment,” Daniell wrote in response to my question. “The Commission will hear the presentation and ask questions of the consultant.”

In response, I asked if citizens could make comments about the Tevis report during the Citizen Comment section at the beginning of the meeting.

“Citizen comment section is for items not on the agenda,” Daniell wrote. “The agenda will typical indicate discuss and consider if action is planned at the meeting,” he added.

The agenda item says: “Discuss Animal Services Feasibility Study by Tevis Architects.”

I told Daniell I didn’t think this distinction between a discuss item and an action item was “discernible to someone reading the agenda” and was in conflict with what Vickers had said on Feb. 8.

“Not sure how else to explain,” Daniell wrote back. “That is why I reviewed our procedure at the 02/07/2017 meeting.”

Feb. 7 Explanation

At that meeting on Feb. 7, Daniell said he wanted to clear up confusion from the previous month, when he did not allow citizen comment on an item on the agenda.

He said citizens could comment during the citizen comment section of a meeting “on anything that is not on the agenda.”

During “work sessions,” Daniell said, “typically there is no discussion on those items unless it’s going on the consent agenda.”

The county holds three types of meetings: regular sessions, work sessions, where action is rarely taken and the commissioners talk among themselves and with staff informally, and agenda-setting sessions.

Agenda Setting Meetings

Though Daniell used the term “work sessions” on Feb. 7, the comment about consent agenda indicates that he intended to include in that category agenda setting meetings, which are held on the last Tuesday of the month and are used to prepare the agenda for the regular meeting, held on the first Tuesday of the following month.

The Commission sometimes takes official action at the agenda setting meeting, and items put on the consent agenda during agenda setting meetings are not discussed at the regular meeting unless a commissioner asks to take them off that consent agenda.

Daniell said the gap between the agenda setting meeting and the regular meeting “gives everybody one week to digest what was talked about, to lobby their commissioners for something they want.”

Items for action at the regular meeting will be open for public comment, Daniell said.

Video Clip Of Comments

Daniell wrote to me today that he is using “the same procedure as before,” but former Commission Chair Melvin Davis was not consistent in making the distinctions Daniell articulated between action and discussion items.

Vickers comments to the Animal Control Advisory Board suggests that she did not understand the distinction or did not know if the item would be only for discussion or for discussion and action.

The actual agenda was not released until Friday morning.

“I would encourage the Animal Control Advisory Board members to be at that meeting,” she said, referring to tomorrow night’s session, “to be able to voice their opinion, as well as the public to be there.”

The video below is of Daniell’s comments on Feb. 7.

OCO: Daniell On Citizen Comment from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Waiting until the meeting that the Commissioners are due to take action on an item, essentially leaves no voice for the public, and is a huge disservice to the community. It's like throwing a Hail Mary. By the time that meeting comes around, little can be done to change the opinions of the Commissioners, they are there to vote and that is all. Having stood before them and spoken on numerous occasions, it is a perfunctory act met with little interest across the Board. I am surprised and saddened by this decision by Daniel.

Let'sGoOconee said...

Anon 9:07 is spot's too late to wait until the meeting when the decision is made.

Not a good start for the Daniell administration. I appreciate him wanting to be consistent, and Melvin was wildly inconsistent (remember when he let Doug Dickens take over a meeting?!).

Still, Oconee County is in need of much more transparency and openness...Daniell is doing the opposite with this confusing policy. His own department head doesn't know what's up.

Anonymous said...

I, on the other hand, am saddened but not at all surprised. Sounds like business as usual for the good ol' boys of the county commission.

Anonymous said...

Communication with commission members one on one is much more effective. Not having a mic to grandstand, try to be funny and get your name in the media does not prevent participating in the process. Follow the rule, otherwise it becomes an arbitrary decision by Chair. Do you really need comments on every item discussed?

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the headline could have been.." Shelter Director errs by encouraging public comment on agenda item"...or... "Chairman will follow meeting procedure outlined in early February regarding Animal Shelter Study", rather than creating the impression that Daniel is stifling public comment. Also, a lack of transparency and openness has nothing to do with this, since the report is being presented in a public setting. Finally, as I understand it, this is just a feasibility report being presented to the BOC where they have the opportunity to ask questions. They are not being given a bid to consider and vote on. This is a non-issue for the BOC and the Chairman, inadvertently created by a Department Director who failed to familiarize herself with BOC procedures and didn't ask before speaking.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that Melvin has been succeeded by Melvin II..... Oh no.

I agree that the meeting where a decision is to be made is not the best time to hear and reflect on comments made by the constituents.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous @ 6:28a. If you're waiting until the night of the vote to lobby the Commission, you've waited too late. This has been a known issue of many, many weeks, and the public has had that same amount of time to impact the thoughts of the Commission.

And regarding the perceived discrepancy in Daniell's policy of public comment... Seems to me this article and commentors are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

If the word "Approve" isn't on the agenda for the consultant's presentstion, and Daniell said public comment will only be allowed on items that say "Approve," then public comment won't be allowed. Daniell is being consistent. People will have the opportunity to make public comment when the Commission decides to take action on the item.

Xardox said...

It would seem that the meeting where no action is taken is prime time for citizen comment.
Limiting time to, say, 3-5 minutes per citizen, and total to 30-45 minutes is reasonable.
But denying any comments at a "non-action" meeting is arbitrary and capricious.

Zippity said...

It does not seem to make much sense to allow citizen comments on what is NOT on the agenda, but not on items on the agenda. It is reasonable to allow citizen comments on agenda items, but with a limitation on time. Having said that, the Animal Control proposal is just being presented to the Board so lobbying for it now publically seems very premature to me and a waste of time.

Lee Becker said...

Anonymous 8:26 a.m.

I have been thinking about your comment. I thank you for making it.

It is definitely true that I could have used a different headline. The second suggested headline would have been accurate. The first would not.

On Feb. 8, Vickers encouraged people to attend the meeting on Feb. 28. At that time, she said she only said that the shelter report was going to be on the agenda and it was a chance for people to talk about. Jeff Benko, county administrative officer, was at the Feb. 8 meeting as well and did not contradict Vickers. Vickers reports to Benko.

It was not until Friday morning of last week, when the county released the agenda, that it was labeled as a "discuss" item and not an "action" item. Benko and Daniell produce that agenda.


Jim McGarvey - a Friend of Calls Creek said...

The fact that an item is not on the agenda should not prevent citizens from commenting. Often the fact that an item is not on the agenda is the issue in and of itself.