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Stafford supervisors take time to re-haul meeting schedule

by | Jun 5, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, Stafford

How long each supervisor gets to speak took up a large part of the conversation at the Tuesday afternoon Stafford County Board of Supervisors meeting.  

The ticking clock was one sticking point in a discussion aimed at finding ways to make the board’s meetings more efficient and effective. In the May meeting, the board was presented with options from staff to expand the meeting schedule to three days a month, with added work sessions as needed. 

Concerns about start times and a dedicated time for public comments were also up for discussion.

On “A” days, public presentations would begin after the consent agenda and proclamations portion of the meeting. On “B” days, the board would pause the meeting and public presentations would begin at 6:30 p.m.  

Supervisor Darrell English expressed that he would prefer a 7 p.m. time slot for those comments. Supervisor Pamela Yeung said both days should have the same time for public comments to accommodate residents.  

Supervisor Crystal Vanuch explained that the later start time of 5 p.m. versus the current 3 p.m. start time would naturally push the public comment period to a later time.

“We want the public to be able to speak on the action items for the day,” Vanuch said.

Vanuch pointed out that having a set time for A Day is not necessary because the public hearings would be moving to the B Day meeting.

“This is a totally different concept,” she said. “In my opinion, we are actually helping the public by being more transparent because we are not starting until 5 p.m., and we are not taking action on anything until the business day is over and we are allowing them an opportunity to speak on anything before we take action.” 

English later brought up an issue regarding older residents wishing to provide public input.

“Some people don’t like to drive at night… and in wintertime, it’s going to be dark by 5 o’clock,” he said. “So maybe we make the A Day at 3 and keep the B Day at 5. I don’t like change personally, but that’s me.” 

Interim County Administrator Craig Meadows was called on to provide insight into how other boards across the state conduct meetings.

“It really depends on the board and what works best for the board’s schedule. I hear the comments about concerns about the citizens and their ability to be there,” he said. “I think the key is to make sure that you have that opportunity for public address. Early in one meeting and later in another meeting, the key is just ensuring that there are times for the public to address the board on whatever issue that is on their mind.” 

Vanuch added that online public comments are also an option for those who cannot attend a board meeting. From there, the supervisors haggled over allowing board comments to be limited to three minutes versus five and only bringing forth one item during board comments. 

“I am hearing some of the various board members aren’t comfortable with moving forward now. We all need to be on the same page,” chairwoman Meg Bohmke said. 

Vanuch pointed out that the discussion was held in order to fulfill bylaw requirements and that the new schedule would have to be advertised for multiple meetings before being adopted. English then proposed a motion to limit board comments to three minutes. Gary said that such a limit was not “appropriate” because she has been “shut down” in the past. 

“We get to talk ad nauseam,” said Vanuch, who also brought up that each board member now has $10,000 for district-specific communications and outreach for items such as newsletters or other programs to directly address constituents. 

After several procedural snafus involving a substitute motion and an abstention, the board voted against deferring the time limit vote and, ultimately, English’s motion to limit board comments failed in a 3-3 vote, with Allen abstaining and Supervisors Deuntay Diggs, Gary and Yeung against. 

“There’s a middle ground that no one is trying to reach and maybe this will get us there,” Allen said. 

County Attorney Rysheda McClendon asked for a poll of the board on various elements of schedule changes. The majority of the board asked to keep the existing schedule for beginning at 5 p.m., against scheduling public comments at 6:30 on action items, agreed on not requiring address disclosures by members of the public during comments, and limiting items brought up by supervisors to one per meeting. 

In other board action, at the 3 p.m. meeting, the board approved a waiver for a one-year time limit on filing a new Conditional Use Permit for the Enon Road Solar Farm by a vote of 5 to 2, with English and Vanuch voting no. Gary asked staff to look at creating a tree canopy legislation or ordinance to address flooding issues. The board unanimously approved a resolution for an amendment to a lease agreement with Milestone Tower. 

There will be a special meeting June 10 at 4:30 p.m. to go into closed session to take up outstanding items and appointments to committees, which were pulled from the consent agenda because Supervisor Vanuch was absent for the 7 p.m. meeting. 

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