Decorum rules established for speaking at meetings

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Rules have been established for the public to speak at county commissioners and council meetings.

The Dubois County Council passed on Monday a resolution establishing those procedures. The Dubois County Commissioners passed an identical resolution last week.

Having such a resolution was recommended by the Association of Indiana Counties, after it was noticed that meetings in some counties were becoming unruly, County Council President Mike Kluesner explained. He was told some public meetings elsewhere concerning solar and wind energy turned into arguments, he said.

Despite popular belief, there is no law in place stating that people must be allowed to speak or comment at public board meetings, though most boards do choose to have a public comment period at their meetings.

According to the resolution, the rules provide “a clear and concise set of standards for public meetings held by (the commissioners and council) and, when applicable, rules regulating the conduct and decorum of members of the general public who wish to attend said public meetings.”

People wanting to address the board must sign a speaker registration sheet with their name, address and topic they want to talk about. The name order on the sheet is the order people will be called on to talk. The person must speak from the podium and give their name, county of residence and topic when speaking.

When asked about having speakers identify the county they are from, Kluesner explained that there could be people speaking on a matter who do not live in Dubois County. “It’s good to know who they are,” he said.

Each speaker will be given three minutes to speak, “unless a shorter period of time is set forth by the (commissioners or council) at the start of the public comment period,” according to the resolution. The speaker can provide the board with documents pertaining to the issue. The speaker cannot yield their time to another speaker. A person can choose to not speak when their name is called.

Speakers will be told when their time is exhausted and must conclude their comments. If they don’t, they will be “deemed out of order and the speaker will be asked to stop,” according to the resolution. Also, comments that are repetitive or any speaker who is discourteous, argumentative, accusatory or insulting will be deemed out of order and the speaker will be directed to stop.

The commissioners and council can request a person deemed out of order to leave the meeting. “In extreme cases, if a person refuses to leave the meeting after being asked to do so and that person continues to disrupt the proceedings in a way that is obviously hostile to the purpose of the meeting, (the commissioners or council) may order that the person be removed by members of the Dubois County Sheriff’s” Office, according to the resolution.

Before the resolution passed, Councilman Doug Uebelhor commented that his understanding was that the rules were being put in place to avoid extreme cases of meetings getting out of hand.

“This isn't what I kind of thought it would be like,” he said referring to the resolution. “I encourage people to come to the meeting and say what they're wanting to talk about or voice their concerns and usually I talked to them longer than three minutes. And here we’re only giving them three minutes.

“I think we need to be open to allowing them to speak.”

Kluesner said the council can choose to not enact all the rules. The head of the board can waive any of the rules to “accommodate an open discussion,” according to the resolution.

“I don’t see this really being used that much during our regular meeting,” Kluesner said.

Uebelhor agrees that if a person is being argumentative or combative, the council needs to have a way to make the person stop or to remove the person from the meeting. But the overall tone of the resolution bothered him.

“I read it a few times. It just kind of came off as being more of a dictator,” he said, “as far as you need to be doing this or you're going to be out of order.”

Councilwoman Charmian Klem explained that the intention of the resolution is to make sure established rules were in place so that the council and commissioners can refer to them when needed.

“This is for the worst case scenario,” she said. “Thank God we haven't had anything like that here. But it doesn't mean that we won’t. I think something needs to should be in place, whether or not we follow them strictly every single meeting.”

The rules of decorum will be posted in the commissioners/council room, which is where meetings are held. The resolution is also posted on the commissioners’ page and the council’s page on the Dubois County Government’s website, www.duboiscountyin.org.

The council also:

• Appropriated $151,600 for Dubois County Community Corrections, which is a fifth of the $757,900 grant the department received from the $4.4 million Community Leadership Grant the Dubois County Community Foundation was awarded from Lilly Endowment Inc. through the seventh phase of Lilly’s Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow initiative.

• Consented to advertising a $150,000 appropriation for equipment for the highway department.

• Appropriated $100,000 for COVID-19 vaccine clinics and established a salary ordinance for the part-time nurses and clerks who are working at the clinics to dispense the vaccine.

• Agreed to appropriate $15,400 and established the salary for a part-time probation intern. The funding is part of a $76,700 grant the department is receiving as part of the Community Leadership Grant from Lilly Endowment.

• Appropriated $6,000 for the highway department to have its new assistant clerk, when hired, to work with and be trained by current assistant clerk Wanda Beck before she retires in April.




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