Southampton supervisors bring comment period to the fore

Published 9:22 am Friday, November 29, 2013

COURTLAND—The time for public comment at Southampton Board of Supervisors’ meetings has been brought from the end and put closer to the start. The action was unanimously approved by the supervisors during their regular Monday meeting.

Chairman Dallas Jones of the Drewryville District initiated the discussion.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” said Glenn Updike of the Newsoms District. Carl Faison of the Boykins District agreed, and suggested that a sign-up sheet be established.

“I think it discourages people,” said Dr. Alan Edwards of the Jerusalem District about the registration. He later told The Tidewater News that in his experience at school board meetings, signing up obligates people, and that seems to discourage them from speaking.

“People have told me that,” he said. “‘I don’t want to obligate myself, but if something strikes my fancy….’”

Edwards continued that allowing people just to come up to podium is a more open way of discussion. Further, he thinks having the public speak before supervisors vote on something makes a lot of sense, because the they will know what people feel beforehand, “rather than after things are solidified.”

Edwards added that he’s flexible about when the comment period is set. He recalled that the opportunity for comment was started several years ago, and was done during his 26 years on the Southampton Planning Commission.

“People don’t necessarily want you to solve their problems, but they do expect you to listen,” said Edwards.

Barry Porter of the Franklin District said also he favors being able “to hear input before we vote on any matter.”

He hopes that the public will come to the meetings with ideas based on the agenda, which is available online.

“My comment was against signing up; that might discourage people from speaking. Obviously we want everyone to have their say.

Porter then made the motion to put the comment period after the approval of minutes, with Edwards seconding the motion. The board unanimously agreed with the provision to limit individuals to three minutes each for the time being; previously, there was a two-minute limit. Porter said that if the time becomes abused, then the board could take another look at the matter.

But at the citizens’ comment time that evening, one person objected to the move.

“You have suppressed my right to comment,” said John Burchett of Sebrell.

Jones assured him that he was welcome to keep coming to the meetings and speaking.