City board rejects motion to allow public to speak at meetings
By Bobby Lee McCulley | November 6, 2017 6:14 am
A motion made by an alderman to allow the public to address city officials during a certain portion of their twice-monthly meetings has been rejected by the remaining members.
“One of the major complaints that I have with this board, in general, is that the public can not address us in these meetings,” stated Alderman Jerry Lowery, who had made the motion. “I don’t know the history behind that, but I’d like to make a motion to allow people to be able to come here and allow the public to address us if needed.”
After a period of silence from the board, Lowery then asked, “What is the guidelines right now?”
City of Sparta Mayor Jeff Young replied.
“The standard procedure for now is that if anything is put on the agenda, it is approved by the mayor,” said Young. “If someone wants to address the board, I’m just like each and every member of this board. I’m open 24-hours a day to speak to anybody. But, we don’t typically have an open session for the public to come, unless it’s approved by the mayor, and at that point in time I’ll see if I think it’s necessary.
“My concern is, again, I’m open to speak to anybody and field any calls even at 4 in the morning. But, I think if we do that, [allow the public to address the board], it would put us in a situation sorta like the county [commission] has been. That it will create sort of a circus atmosphere. It’s not a controlled environment, and it could create potential chaos.”
The Board of Commissioners of White County allows the public to come forward and address the commission during a designated segment that is listed on the agenda.
“I just don’t think it’s in our best interest,” said Young.
The Expositor contacted several city governments in the Upper Cumberland to see what is standard procedure for their meetings. The cities of Cookeville, Spencer, McMinnville, Smithville, Crossville, and Baxter all allow the public to address their respective boards during their regularly scheduled meetings.
According to City of Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton, “Towards the end of our city council meetings, I will open the floor for anyone in the audience to come forward and address the board. I have a brief statement that I will read that provides the guidelines to those who wish to speak to the board. [Each person can speak for three minutes, cannot use vulgar language and must address the entire council, not just one specific council member.]”
“We are elected officials who serve the public,” stated Shelton. “This allows the general public an opportunity to address their elected officials.”
After Young addressed the board about his position on the matter, no other board member provided any additional comments, with the exception of Lowery.
“I just don’t understand why we can’t allow someone to come and speak to us,” he said. “We are elected officials and representatives of the public. If they don’t have the opportunity to come and speak to us, yeah they can call me on the cell phone or catch me on the side of the road, but I just think it’s in our best interest to allow the public to address us. We can set the guidelines to how the public can address the board. But, without a second [on the motion], it can’t go anywhere.”
No alderman seconded Lowery’s motion to allow a segment to be established to allow the public to address the board. Therefore the motion failed.