Details of the new policy
A new public comment and meeting policy has been adopted by the Swain County Board of Commissioners. Here are some highlights:
• A public comment period will be held at the beginning of each meeting, starting at 7 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of the month. Speakers must sign in within 10 minutes after the meeting has begun and will have a three-minute time limit, unless a majority of the board agrees to grant additional time.
• A copy of the agenda will be available for public inspection as soon as it is completed — at the latest by noon on Friday prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
• After the agenda has been published, new things cannot be added to it unless there is an item that needs immediate attention, in which case an item can only be added if there is a unanimous vote by all five commissioners to add it to the agenda.
• Members of the public may request in writing to be put on a list to receive copies of the agenda ahead of time. Accompanying background materials included in the agenda packet will be available for public inspection, but will not be mailed out due to bulk.
• The board may hold a special called meeting with 48 hours notice. Notice of special called meetings must be posted on the bulletin board in the county administration building, which the county already did to comply with state law. (While not listed in the county policy, North Carolina law requires public boards to notify any member of the public of special called meetings if they have requested to be notified of such meetings. The county can charge up to $10 a year to provide personal notification of special called meetings to a member of the public.)
• Members of the public can request to have an item placed on the agenda, which will be granted at the county manager’s discretion.
How good is it?
Haywood County commissioners adopted an open government policy four years ago following similar complaints from the public over being shut out of the decision making process. Haywood County’s policy goes a step further than Swain’s in a couple of areas.
Haywood’s policy says that commissioners will not vote on something that is potentially controversial at the same meeting it was introduced. Instead, commissioners wait until the following meeting so constituents can write or call commissioners to express their opinions. Swain County’s policy allows commissions to present an ordinance or controversial item for the first time and vote on it at the very same meeting.
Haywood’s policy also prohibits commissioners from voting on something immediately following a public hearing, but instead requires a wait of at least 48 hours. This waiting period gives commissioners time to digest what they heard from the public rather than simply going through the motions of a public hearing and then voting as soon as the public hearing concludes. Haywood’s policy was created by then-Commissioner Mark Swanger who was elected to office on an open government platform.