Residents walk out of meeting over speech

Residents who attended last night’s city council meeting didn’t stay long.
Some residents who attend city council meetings on a somewhat regular basis are not happy with the new public comment policy in the last two months.
During council meetings, public comments are now restricted to a specific time at the beginning of the meetings. Some argued last night, and in the past, that residents should be able to speak about a matter when that item appears on the agenda rather than making a general comment after the start of the meeting.
Former Mayor Ed Lee Swafford told the council they might as well meet in closed session all the time, because the public is not allowed to participate.
Mayor Lance Green said residents also have the opportunity to speak about issues at committee meetings that are held outside of council meetings. Green acknowledged that he is the only one who will speak and conduct the meetings according to Robert’s Rules of conducting a meeting.
“I know how the animals in the zoo feel because that’s the way I feel standing up here before you, because all I see is people sitting there staring at me, not allowed to comment,” Swafford said. “You’re the only one who can comment.”
Councilwoman Beverly Gorham took exception to Swafford’s comments about not being able to speak. She said Richmond isn’t doing anything different than most cities. She said the way the meetings are conducted is nothing new.
“We can talk anytime we want to,” Gorham said. “ I’ve been to other city council meetings and I know that many of them are conducted according to these same rules.”
Gorham asked City Clerk Robin Littrell how long the meetings have been conducted this way. Littrell responded by saying the comment issue is fairly new.
Swafford said that during discussion of agenda items dialogue happens and more questions or comments can arise. Swafford said he was mayor when the city adopted the Robert’s Rules and it was not intended to be utilized the current way. Swafford said he always allowed residents to speak during a meeting.
Swafford said that earlier in the week he had requested to be put on the agenda but was denied. Swafford said it’s the only way he can communicate with council members.
“According to your rules, I’m just speaking to the mayor,” Swafford said. “I would like to be able to speak to the representatives of the first ward sometime.”
Green responded by saying, “You can speak to them anytime you like outside the council meeting.”
Green then denied a request by resident Jim Rippy to speak later on in the meeting. After Rippy’s request, the rest of the audience left after Rippy said, “The council meeting is over for us.”
Councilwoman Melissa Miller asked if the matter could be researched and brought back to the council so the council can make the decision. Green said the issue has been studied.
Other cities in Ray County such as Orrick, Hardin and Henrietta do allow citizen comments during the matter that is being discussed.

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