The Buncombe County commissioners are considering making some big changes to how they conduct business.
They plan on reviewing all of their own rules and procedures when they meet Feb. 5 — the first full meeting of all seven commissioners since last year’s elections. (The swearing-in of District 2 commissioners Mike Fryar and Ellen Frost was delayed due to a series of disputes over the election results filed by Christina Kelley G. Merrill).
The process for determining meeting agendas, conducting public comment sessions, and informing the public about the issues before the board are all likely to get an overhaul, says board Chair David Gantt.
Previously, County Manager Wanda Greene had authority over what issues were included in the meeting agendas for the board’s consideration. But Gantt argues that the rules should be changed to allow the chair to be more involved in that process.
“I think the county manager has done a wonderful job but I think a lot of the commissioners feel that at least one of us should be more directly involved in that,” he says. “Commissioners want as much notice as possible about what’s coming up, so there can be research and discussion done before we vote.”
Gantt also says he’ll propose that county staff start providing more information about budgetary items the board will be dealing with. He wants the staff to include a list of pros and cons related to the specific issues posted on the county website and agendas ahead of the meetings.
“That would make, I think, the elected officials, the public, and the media, get kind of a heads up on how the staff sees the debate being presented,” he says.
In addition, Gantt says it’s likely the commissioners will move public comment sessions to the beginning of the meetings rather than at the end. Over the years, the board has come under criticism for holding them at the end, making some people feel like “we didn’t want public comment” on some issues before voting on them, he says.
Noting that there’s potential pitfalls either way, he says the board might consider holding public comment sessions at the beginning and at the end of meetings.
“There’s two ways to look at it. You could say, ‘Well I didn’t get to influence your vote before you voted.’ But then you didn’t get a chance to complain or congratulate about it afterward,” explains Gantt.
Also on tap for the Feb. 5 meeting: Commissioners will elect a vice chair, and consider several zoning changes for land on, adjacent to and otherwise near the Asheville Regional Airport.
The board will meet at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 5, in the commissioner’s chambers, located at 200 College Street, suite 326. A short pre-meeting review of the agenda will begin at 4:15 p.m.