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Buckhannon Council sets new comment policy

October 20, 2012
By Melissa Toothman - Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

Following a heated meeting earlier this month, citizens wishing to speak before Buckhannon City Council now will need to make sure to sign the attendance roster five to 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start of the meeting.

Mayor Kenneth Davidson told council Thursday that the decision was to help keep order at the meetings and he still encourages people to attend and speak. Anyone who does not arrive before the sign-in sheet is collected will have the opportunity to speak at the following meeting, Davidson said.

"We encourage people to attend our meetings, we encourage people to present their issues, and we intend to listen to them, but we also are going to insist that it's done in an orderly fashion," Davidson said. "We're not trying to cut people off, we're just trying to get a little bit organized."

According to a West Virginia State Code read by Davidson at the Thursday meeting, "any governing body may make and enforce reasonable rules for attendance and presentation at any meeting."

Davidson said that governments are not required to allow the public to make comments, but Buckhannon City Council allows public comments.

"The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to allow citizens to observe the governing body for purposes of promoting transparency," Davidson said. "It (the code) goes on to say that governing bodies are encouraged to have a comment period and I believe we should, but we're not required to do so."

At the Oct. 11 council meeting, friends and family of Luke Stout, a missing Buckhannon man, attended council to seek answers relating to Stout's disappearance and search. When the answers they sought were not obtained to their satisfaction, the meeting became a heated display of emotions and repeated disturbances.

Davidson then called for the removal of some guests from the meeting with the help of police officers. Davidson told council Thursday that he "will not tolerate that in the future."

"It says here (in the code) that the article does not prohibit the removal from a meeting of any member of the public who is disrupting the meeting to the extent that, in order to conduct the meeting, the meeting's compromised," Davidson said.

Davidson also addressed a frequently asked question as to whether or not media representatives or members of the public are permitted to record proceedings of the meetings.

"The answer to that is yes, they may. We cannot prohibit that," he said.



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