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CLAY COUNTY — An ordinance modification that would have allowed any Clay County commissioner to add items to commission session agendas and would have returned the opportunity for members of the public to comment on nonagenda items to meeting proceedings was voted down 2-1 on Monday, Aug. 12, with Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte being the lone “yes” vote.

Nolte crafted the draft ordinance and sought its approval, saying he did not agree with a majority of commission action made in recent years to remove public comment on nonagenda items from the regular commission sessions. He said allowing residents to address their government’s elected officials is a basic right under the Constitution and one that many other first-class counties allow on their meeting schedules.

“Having those comments is positive and we should be looking to return to that,” the presiding commissioner said of his draft ordinance, adding he feels there is a lot of citizen comment not being heard by the commission.

Having a system set up where public comment occurs once a month during a scheduled Friday public comment period does not provide commissioners an opportunity to answer questions from the community in real time, Nolte said. At monthly public comment periods, county staff are present but not often a majority of commissioners, as they are not required to attend. The commission, Nolte said, should be open to citizen ideas, criticisms and comments.

“We are here for the people, not to work in a vacuum,” he said.

Allowing public comment on nonagenda items was removed from the commission’s regular meetings by majority vote in a previous commission meeting when Dean Brookshier still served as county administrator.

The move was done after some commissioners argued public comment portions of meetings were allowed to devolve into a lack of decorum, were being used inappropriately and become disruptive to commission action by taking up extended periods of time.

While general public comment was removed from commission sessions, the ability for the public to comment on items on the agenda remained and is in effect.

Nolte’s ordinance also would have allowed any commissioner to add items to commission meeting agendas. Currently, commissioners can request items be put on the agenda but not dictate, he said, which places the power to set the agenda in the hands of county staff rather than the commission.

Neither Western Commissioner Gene Owen nor Eastern Commissioner Luann Ridgeway chose to comment on the proposed change. Instead, Owen called the effort to question, meaning all discussion on the motion was halted and an immediate vote on the matter was required.

Both Owen and Ridgeway voted against the measure.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com or 903-6001.