Public Speaking Rules at Huntington City Council Meetings Debated

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
Mark Bates New Council Chairman
Mark Bates New Council Chairman

HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) – “Let folks speak their peace,” opined city councilman Scott Caserta in regard to changes in the open mike “Good and Welfare” portion of Huntington council meetings. 

A debate began on the first reading of an ordinance that would place the public speaking period following Reports of the Mayor. Sponsored by Steve Williams, the finance committee chairman the alteration would make it a “council priority” to hear from constituents without them having to sit through a lengthy meeting.

Both the Cabell County Commission and Cabell County Board of Education allow the public to speak in the first phases of their meetings. Council previously had their open comment section at the beginning of the meetings.

Under Council Rules the public is limited to three minutes. In addition, the public can NOT comment on a First Reading of an Ordinance, unless an amendment is offered or the rules are waived. The rules provide that the public must comment on a second/third reading or resolution agenda item at the period immediately following council debate.

Councilwoman Frances Jackson questioned whether the “first reading agenda item” rule would apply to an early good and welfare since the item would have not yet been heard.

Former chairman Jim Insco recalled that the pushing back of Good and Welfare had contained the “except for items on the agenda” wording.

City Attorney Scott McClure agreed with this recollection.

Williams suggested that “council has a public hearing (i.e. public comments) at council committee meetings. However, an audience member stated that he had once been told that like one first readings , the public could not comment during a committee meeting.

Caserta agreed that work sessions and committee meetings are “not normally open for public comment.”

He sponsored an amendment to allow five minutes and to remove the “except for agenda item” wording from the ordinance.

Williams called the proposed amendment “divisible” for which the city attorney agreed.

Council narrowly approved the five minute rule, 6-5. Jim Ritter, Teresa Loudermilk, Nate Randolph, Rebecca Thacker, and Russ Houck voted to retain the three minute limit.

On the “all items free for discussion” during Good and Welfare, council members declined, 8-3,  to extend that privilege to the public . Those voting in favor were Caserta, Insco and Frances Jackson.

Ms. Jackson emphasized that allowing the practice could give members more time to “mull over and think about their votes.”

Williams emphasized that “Four items on second reading today had been at least once referred back to committee and two had been referred back to committee a second time. Nobody can say we don’t give everybody an opportunity to speak.”

PERMIT HOT LINE

The City of Huntington has established a “permit hot line.” Council passed a resolution approving the previously discussed concept in which neighbors could leave anonymous tips concerning a construction project that lacks a building permit.

Anticipating approval of the resolution, a line had already been dedicated to it, explained Brandi Jacobs-Jones, Director of Administration and Finance who sat in for an ill Mayor Kim Wolfe. The number: 304-696-5527.

“Crafted by council input and not wanting to delay action, we have instituted the hotline,” said Ms. Jacobs-Jones.

In response to council queries , the tip line will be monitored by city department heads on weekends, through remote call checking.

ELECTION OF CHAIR, CO CHAIR

Although the agenda stated that there would be an election of council chairman and co-chairman, anyone who attended the work session or entered the chamber already knew the results. Insco had suggested at the Work Session that the seating arrangements be determined to save time on Monday night. When entering the chamber, Mark Bates, the new council chairman, and Sandra Clements, the new co-chairman , had their name plate in place prior to the vote.

No one was nominated in opposition and the two leadership positions were unanimously approved by council acclamation.



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