County looks at protocol for public comments at commissioner meetings

After some conflict in the commissioners’ room of the courthouse during county board meetings over the last couple of months, at its June 26 meeting, the board decided to look at creating written guidelines for the public comments period of the meeting shortly after the meeting gets started. 
Opponents of the way the proposed community center project has been handled have been speaking out, and sometimes commissioners have spoken back.
Commissioner Fritz Sobanja said he thought they needed to set some parameters, and he suggested that one of them be to not schedule that portion of the meeting so early in the meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m. most of the time.
Commissioner Bruce Martinson said he was concerned that without guidelines, the public comment period could turn into a “circus.”
Board Secretary Janet Simonen had collected samples of other boards’ written guidelines for public comment periods.  She gave distributed the guidelines used by Cook County’s ISD 166 school district, the City of Grand Marais, and Freeborn County.
Commissioner Sue Hakes said she liked the city’s guidelines but suggested adding some elements from the others as well, such as prohibiting individual attacks on board members, allowing the board to ask questions of the speaker, and leaving open the possibility of adding the speaker’s topic to that day’s agenda.
Commissioner Sobanja suggested that they require people to read written statements that they would then submit to the board.  He also liked the idea of limiting this portion of the meeting to 15 minutes and of allowing the board to respond to the public.
Commissioner Bruce Martinson suggested that they limit comments to five minutes per person but put the topic on the agenda for later in the meeting if more discussion were needed.
Commissioner Hakes will draft a policy based on suggestions from the board, which they will discuss at a future meeting.