FRONT ROYAL – The Board of Supervisors approved more lenient public comment period rules Tuesday but failed to align its policies and procedures guidelines with the county code, which officials originally said was the goal of any proposed changes.
Mark Egger informed the supervisors that the county’s code and the supervisors’ procedures and guidelines were in conflict when the board attempted to cut off his comments during a November meeting regarding the actions of the former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development executive director.
The county followed up the meeting by setting out to make those two sets of rules the same and in January amended its policies and procedures to allow citizens five minutes to address the supervisors during a 20-minute portion of the meeting. The amendments also stated that no person could address the board regarding the same topic more than three times per 12 months.
The county then set a Jan. 22 public hearing to make the code — which states that citizens can address the supervisors for an unlimited time “upon the demand of any two supervisors” or by the chairman — align with the new policy. Over 20 citizens spoke out against the already approved policy amendment and the proposed code amendment.
The supervisors postponed a vote pending a Feb. 19 work session.
The board at its regular Tuesday meeting voted to amend the Jan. 8 changes made to its policies. The amended policy and procedures guidelines allow “any orderly person” to address the board upon recognition from the chairman. It adds that there will be a 20-minute public comment period at the beginning of meetings that will be divided equally among speakers.
The amended rules also allow for an hour-long public comment period at the end of the meeting for speakers to address the board regarding issues not on that night’s agenda. That time would also be divided equally among speakers.
When Supervisor Tony Carter made a motion to pass the amendment to the board’s policies, Supervisor Tom Sayre motioned to table it. Sayre’s motion failed by a 3-2 vote with him and Supervisor Archie Fox as those in favor of tabling the matter.
Sayre then motioned to postpone a vote until the board could discuss the matter in a Feb. 19 work session, saying that citizens were under the impression they could comment again during that meeting.
“That’s what we promised the people,” Sayre said.
Glavis countered that work sessions are not public hearings and that the changes are less restrictive than before and there is no need for further discussion. Chairman Dan Murray agreed, noting that the amended code gave the citizens who spoke during the January public hearing everything that they asked for “and some.”
The motion to delay the vote also failed, with Sayre and Fox again the only ones in favor.
Sayre then motioned to keep the policies and procedures the same and just strike the portion stating that speakers cannot address the supervisors more than three times per 12 months on the same subject. This would have limited speakers’ remarks to five minutes in a 20-minute public comment period.
Murray noted that under Carter’s proposed motion, the speaking limit per 12-month period was already removed. Sayre’s motion failed again by a 3-2 vote, with Sayre and Fox in favor.
Carter said the board had two weeks to consider everything that was said at the public hearing and his motion addressed those issues by allowing citizens to speak for longer and does not limit the number of times anyone can speak.
“This is not brain science or rocket surgery,” he said.
Carter’s motion then passed by a 3-2 vote, with Fox and Sayre dissenting.
Carter then motioned that the discussion slated for a Feb. 19 work session regarding proposed changes to the code be postponed. That passed by a unanimous vote.
Sayre then motioned that the supervisors leave the Warren County code — which allows anyone to speak so long as they have the approval of two board members or the chairman — unchanged. That motion was unanimously passed.