February 29, 2012 - Public comments at Independence Township Board meetings are back up front, though not officially.
Treasurer Curt Carson's motion to move public comment to the top of the agenda permanently was denied in a 3-3 vote.
Clerk Barbara Pallotta can place public comment at the top of the agenda at her discretion.
"In the last three meetings we have gone ahead and moved public comment back up to the front of the meeting each time and it's worked very well, other than the fact people aren't aware that could potentially happen," Carson said. "I believe having the ability to come in and speak, and tell the board what their thoughts are, whether it's positive or negative, is a right our residents and citizens should have."
Trustees moved public comment to the end of the agenda six months ago. Since then, many residents told Carson they felt disenfranchised in participating in the process or voicing their opinions.
Trustee Neil Wallace voted to move it formally back to the front, but also agreed to move it to the end of the agenda last year.
"The only reason I agreed with it was because it wasn't being used, it was being abused over and over. It was disruptive of our meetings and to the point where it made it difficult to pierce through and be productive," Wallace said. "I think that threat has dissipated and I'm no longer concerned."
Wallace was referring to comments by current Deputy Supervisor Michael Clark.
Trustee David Lohmeier said he liked moving public comments to the front because it didn't require people to stay until the end of the meeting, but opposed doing it by formal motion.
"I think Mrs. Pallotta has had a lot of flexibility in agenda formats which has worked out tremendously well," he said. "I'm not a big fan of starting to arbitrarily put controls around her, where this has to be here and this has to be there."
Lohmeier also noted if anyone uses public comment to disrupt meetings, he would be the first to ask it be moved back to the end of the agenda.
Trustee Mark Petterson agreed.
"The board can move it around anytime, we're just adding more bureaucracy to it. If it gets out of hand, we can move it again," Petterson said. "Right now you're going to tie our hands with our own motion."
However, Carson said the public needs to know when they can speak. Trustee Larry Rosso agreed.
"The public should have some definitive knowledge when we post the agenda that they have the right to speak at that time and they can arrange their schedule accordingly," he said. "I think it should be policy when precisely it is scheduled."
Clerk Barbara Pallotta said she liked the flexibility she had been given on the agenda and wanted it to continue.
"I'm a firm believer the main reason we're here is to conduct the business of the township. If we can't get through this business, we defeat the purpose of the agenda," she said. "Roberts Rules allows us for public comment, but it's at our discretion."
Pallotta also feels if a person comes to a meeting to speak on something not on the agenda, it's usually a complaint, which means the board is not doing its job.
"At that point I would gladly move public comment up – if I'm not doing my job towards someone to publicly call me out on something," she said. "But I still would like the opportunity to resolve problems before they hit the podium."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.