Loudon residents want voices heard
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com-LOUDON — Residents concerned about changes that might limit public comment during Loudon County Commission meetings took umbrage with commissioners Monday night.
The issue began at a commission workshop last week when an item listed on the agenda as "changes to agenda" offered no further information about the proposed changes.
It was revealed during the workshop that the changes to the agenda involved combining public comments usually held at the beginning and end of the meeting to a single comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
Richard Truitt, a Loudon County resident and frequent speaker at public meetings, took out a half-page advertisement in a local newspaper Sunday protesting the decision to change the comment policy.
"Is this how government is supposed to work?" he asked commissioners.
Without detailed information in on the agenda, the public can't know in advance what will be discussed later in the meeting and cannot provide input to the commission, Truitt said.
Truitt was accompanied by his attorney, Knoxville lawyer Linda Noe, who specializes in open government issues.
In a letter to commission Noe wrote that the refusal to "explain or provide any specifics about your ‘changes' it is clear that you purposely denied the citizens of Loudon County the opportunity to know about a change which directly affected them and you kept them from being able to contact commissioners or to comment on the unknown changes at the workshop."
"Open government is the key to good government," she said.
Tellico Village resident Richard Anklin said he had reviewed county rules and procedures and expected that the panel would take a vote on whether to change the policy.
He acknowledged that the rules allowed Chairman Steve Harrelson to make changes to the content and form of the agenda. The question is whether or not that would include making changes to public comment periods without a vote, he said.
Harrelson said he never intended to reduce public comment but only to provide a better way for residents to make their case before commission without having to wait until the end of the meeting.
He gave an example of a resident who wanted to comment on something that was not on the agenda. Under the split comment period that person would have to sit through the entire commission meeting to make a comment.
"My thoughts were never to keep people from speaking," he said.
Commissioner Kelly Littleton-Brewster said she thought the controversy over the issue merited a vote by commission.
Commissioner Van Shaver said he thought the problem was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between and the purpose of workshops — where new ideas are presented — and formal, voting meetings.
Commissioner Earlena Maples said she knew nothing about the proposed changes before the workshop. She said she would welcome an opportunity to discuss and vote on any changes to the agenda.
Harrelson said the issue would be explored in future workshops and meetings before any long term decisions would be made.
Below is a statement from Mr. Richard Anklin sent to me in reference to the above article and ask that I add it to the end of this story. Mr. Anklin is one of the citizens who attends most of the county meetings and provides commentary at many of the meetings.
Mr. Anklin disputes the quotes attributed to him, in the above article, and wishes to have these statements added as a clarification:
The 1st paragraph partially reflects that I did review the County Rules and Procedures, revised in May 2003, and that I expected that a Vote on the Proposed Agenda Change would happen at the Commission meeting to change the policy.
The 2nd paragraph misquotes me in that I said:
While Rule #11I, The Chairman, states (I read it verbatim) "The Chairman has the authority and responsibility for the content and form of the Agenda".
I disagreed that this was the case and, cited page 33 of 35 (were again I read it verbatim) "In meetings of the county legislative body the statues require all business to be transacted by a majority vote of the entire body".
I further stated that any change to the Agenda, the Counties business, as stated in Rule 3, Order of Business, requires a vote of the majority of the entire board.