At tonight’s meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, the board unanimously approved a series of rule changes, including televising public comment after a years-long blackout.
The rules changes also move the timing of public comment: Instead of two separate periods, one in the pre-meeting and one at the end of the meeting, there will now be one public-comment period at the end of the meeting. Citizens will not have to sign in before the meeting to speak (they had to for the pre-meeting comment period), and there will not be a time limit on the public-comment period.
Commissioner Carol Peterson said during the last campaign that she opposed such a step, but she voted for the changes along with the rest of the board.
Every part of the board meeting except public comment has been televised for years, and the blackout had drawn criticism from activists across the political spectrum as a policy that limits government transparency.
Enka resident Jerry Rice, a frequent speaker at the board’s meetings and a critic of the ban, praised the change, but said that more transparency is still needed.
“If it means grandstanding to speak here behind the podium and you use the comment to better your policies, you ought to be patting people on the back for grandstanding,” Rice said. “We might be little, we might not be elected, but we’re human and we deserve to be heard—and you need to listen.”
However, some activists are still not entirely satisfied with the rules, even after the changes. In the final pre-meeting public-comment period, Don Yelton pointed to a provision that requires members of the public to address the entire board instead of individual commissioners.
“I think that is restricting freedom of speech,” Yelton said. “You run for that office to represent the people, so you should be willing to sit up there and be addressed individually. When you put that in your rules, it smacks of not being open.”
The rules will take effect at the next meeting of the board on Feb. 3.
—David Forbes, staff writer