Got a minute…or three?

Published 5:22 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

GATESVILLE – Three minutes or unrestricted time allotment…scheduled appointments, unscheduled appointments and additional citizen comments; there are numerous items of protocol when it comes to carrying out a Gates County Board of Commissioners meeting.

But what do they all mean? At least one Gates County citizen wants answers.

In a March 1 correspondence with the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Earl Rountree said he and some of his fellow county citizens did not understand the difference in public comment (a time set aside at a commissioners meeting for citizens to address concerns or simply make broad-based statements concerning county business or public services) and an item on the meeting agenda.

It was during the Feb. 3 commissioners meeting that Rountree, while making public comment, was cut-off by board chairman Henry Jordan after Rountree had exceeded his allotted three minutes. Rountree’s presentation dealt with a resolution he wanted the commissioners to consider adopting in regards to denouncing an Internet blog that he claimed contained “statements (that) appear to be slanderous.” He also encouraged the board to, “not employ or appoint anyone to a County position that known to us has engaged in any slanderous, inappropriate behavior.”

In his March 1 letter, Rountree stated he was not told upon signing up to speak nor was he informed as he started to speak that he would be limited to three minutes.

“I do understand that the commissioners have the right to limit public comment and do have the right to maintain order,” Rountree stated in his letter. “All I was doing was presenting a simple resolution. I was not out of order, but it was impossible for me to do this in three minutes and again I say I was not told about (the) three minutes (time limit).”

Rountree said he had called and e-mailed the county manager’s office in regards to his concerns, but has yet to receive a response. He added that his lawyer informed him that the county manager should be able to present a written plan of organization that would explain about public comment and how and who could get on the agenda.

Contacted in his office Monday afternoon (March 2), Gates County Manager Toby Chappell took time to explain the differences in the commissioners’ agenda in regards to addressing the board.

Chappell said the agenda is basically set-up in three sections: scheduled appointments (official business conducted with the county) that is placed on the agenda, prior to it being finalized, as a stand-alone item; unscheduled appointments (again, official business conducted with the county) that is added after the monthly meeting agenda has been printed; and additional citizen comments.

Chappell said there were no time constraints on scheduled appointments or unscheduled appointments. The citizen comment portion of the agenda is limited to three minutes.

“We want to allow the citizens an opportunity to make comments on the business of this county,” Chappell said.

The county manager added, “The chairman has taken a stance that there is to be a certain decorum followed at these meetings. There are rules and guidelines that must be followed.”

In regards to Rountree’s allegation that he was not informed of a time limit, Chappell begged to differ.

“I listened to the audio tape that we record at each meeting and Mr. Jordan clearly stated upon opening the floor for public comment, and I quote, ‘Be mindful of the way to present what your comments are and minimize any disrespect or whatever; we will ask that you try to hold your comments to three minutes if possible’.”