Citrus County Commission to leave public comment policy alone

'We might be trying to fix a problem that does not exist.'

New Citrus County Commission Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach wanted to test the waters on public comment at board meetings.

So Schlabach floated an idea: Restrict the first public comment portion for items on the agenda, and use the final public comment before the meeting concludes for anything else.

The thought, she said, was to prevent a repeat of what occurred several times over the past 12 months: Citizens who attend board meetings for specific agenda items waiting for more than an hour of miscellaneous public comment to conclude.

But after hearing from the public, Commissioners decided to leave things as they are.

“Some of you have pretty good ideas and thoughts, and that’s why I put it on the agenda,” Schlabach said. “This room being full warms my heart.”

The County Commission has two open-to-the-public segments on each agenda. One occurs shortly after the 1 p.m. board meeting starts; the other is the last thing before the meeting ends.

There are no guidelines to public comment, other than rules stating that individuals have three minutes to speak and those representing groups have five minutes. The board also takes public comment prior to votes.

Numerous residents began showing up late last year through the summer to complain about a one-time Pride Month library display, which led to criticism of the all-volunteer library advisory board and unsuccessful attempts to ban displays.

Citizens often targeted both Schlabach and Commissioner Holly Davis in their public comments.

Former Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. left the board last month after not seeking re-election.

Schlabach said she wanted to avoid meetings where board business is delayed because of numerous non-agenda public comments.

Citizens, however, noted that neither public comment portion has a specific time. Most people know they can show up at 1 p.m. at the board’s start and public comment will soon follow, they said.

Forcing citizens with non-agenda opinions to wait until the meeting’s end — without a time certain to show up — will lead to less public comment overall.

“We need to be heard,” Tracy Duncan said.

Davis suggested one single public comment portion at 3:30 p.m., or splitting board meetings into two days to allow more time for comments.

The public-comment topic occasionally rises at board meetings, with Schlabach saying she hears from citizens that the meeting times are not convenient for anyone who works.

Last year, at Schlabach’s suggestion, the board set public comment for 5:30 p.m. at its Feb. 22 meeting to see if citizens would show up. They did in great force that night, though nearly all were there to oppose the turnpike extension.

“If we hold that 6 p.m. meeting today this room would be empty,” Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said.

Kinnard also said he sees no reason to tweak the public comment process.

“We might be trying to fix a problem,” he said, “that does not exist.”

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.

One comment

  • Thomas S Casey V

    December 3, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    Are the meetings ever broadcast on TV? or STREAMING?

Comments are closed.


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