The Randolph County Commission adopted a public comment policy Tuesday that places limits on the amount of time speakers may address the commission.
At Tuesday's meeting, Commission President Chris See announced that the commission had crafted a public comment policy that will govern when members of the public may chime in at meetings.
People wishing to speak about an issue not listed on the meeting's agenda should do so during the public comment period at the outset of a commission meeting. Such individuals must register by listing their name, address and subject matter on a sign-up sheet no earlier than 15 minutes prior to the meeting's beginning.
Public comment period speakers will be limited to five minutes, See said. Attendees who would like to comment about a particular item on the commission's agenda will be allowed one minute to voice their opinions at the time the commission takes up the issue, the policy states.
Commissioner Mike Taylor said the commission had modeled the policy after the West Virginia Ethics Commission's open meeting advisory opinion.
"We realize the importance of having public comment," Taylor said, "but we need to have limits on it." Taylor noted that the commission was not statutorily required to hold a public comment period.
Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the policy.
Mike House, a local pastor who ran unsuccessfully against Taylor in the November 2012 election, said he felt the last section of the policy could potentially violate people's rights to free speech.
The section states, "The President (See) may recognize members of the audience to speak during the meeting after public comment period is closed but is not required to do so. These comments, if allowed, may be limited at the discretion of the President."
"I think there's a free speech issue there," House remarked, referring to the part that says the commission president has the discretion to recognize - or not recognize - members of the audience who wish to speak after the public comment period.
"We took this from the West Virginia Ethics Commission opinion," See replied.
Following Tuesday's meeting, See said the new policy doesn't impinge on the constitutional right to free speech.
"He (House) can ask questions about agenda items, but we don't have to answer anything," he told The Inter-Mountain.
The Randolph County Board of Education, Tucker County Board of Education and Elkins City Council have adopted similar policies, limiting each speaker to five minutes during a designated public comment period.
During Tuesday's public comment period, several residents thanked the commission for agreeing to open their meetings in prayer; however, some said they were still unhappy about the fact that the name of Jesus Christ is omitted from the standard prayer the commission has agreed to recite.
Joe Cannon, who described himself as a deliverance minister, said using the name of Jesus was essential to his work.
"I cast demons out of people," Cannon said, handing commissioners a Bible and a list of "demonic spirits" he said he deals with on a daily basis. "I have to cast evil out in the name of Jesus. I can't do it in the name of Buddha or Mohammed... they don't listen."
House said he was disappointed that the commission was not allowing community pastors to take turns delivering invocations.
"Randolph County is a Judeo-Christian community and this was in part what we wanted recognized in our request to open the meetings in prayer," House said.
"All we ask is that you not take away the heritage of our community, allow us to exalt Christ."
In other business, the commission also:
Approved the levy rate of 14.24 percent for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Approved Randolph County Sheriff Mark Brady's request to hire Darin Shreve as a sheriff's office tax deputy at an annual salary of $21,254 with benefits.
Approved the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management's new emergency operations plan, which has been tweaked to address shortfallings that came to light following the June derecho and Superstorm Sandy, OEM director Jim Wise said.
Announced that the next regular Randolph County Commission meeting will take place at 1:30 p.m. April 30.
Granted a Randolph County Convention & Visitors Bureau request for $8,000, $3,000 of which will be used for a travel show promotion and $5,000 of which will finance the construction of a new bathroom facility.
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